by JON DYKSTRA The Iola Register|
The Red Devil volleyball team took its lumps last season on the way to a 9-23 overall record with a 1-8 Jayhawk Conference record, but with most of its young core coming back in 2016, the Red Devils are focused on making strides this season.
"Our sophomores have come a long ways," Red Devil coach Whitney Shaw said. "With spring training and over the summer, they have really stepped up and are taking on a leadership role. We are really excited about this large group of returners, because honestly, it makes my job easier when they already know what we expect.
"Last year we faced a lot of injuries, so we are trying to stay away from that this season."
One of the main reasons for optimism is the return of 2015 kills leader Andria Dowell. The Sterling, Kan., native had 382 during her freshman year. Dowell was also solid defensive player for Allen while finishing third on the team in both blocks and digs.
Dowell isn't the only offensive threat that returns to the Red Devil attack.
Leah Hiebert is back for her sophomore season after finishing second — only behind Dowell -— in kills last season with 147. Sarah Baker is the third player with triple-digit kills in 2015 returning. She had 123 during her freshman campaign.
Baker is joined by Caitlin McDougald to form a promising returning block. They were the top blockers on the team last season with Baker getting 49 and McDougald ending up with 48.
"Both played the libero position last season so they are very consistent and are doing very well (in practice)," Shaw said.
Samantha Cloe also returns as the Red Devils' setter after racking up 196 assists as a freshman to finish second on the team.
"She is a returning setter, which is always good because that is like the quarterback of our team," Shaw said.
Another key returner for Shaw and the Red Devils is Hayley Mertens, who is back for her second season as an assistant coach for Shaw. Mertens will play a key role this season as Shaw is due to have a child early in the season.
"She is going to come into play whenever I have to take my short leave of absence," Shaw said. "Just as a coach, she has come a long way from last year and she is really good a developing the hitter, which helps me focus on defense and setting so I feel really comfortable with her. She also played for me for two years, so I am really confident in her."