The West Liberty volleyball team hasn’t been to the state tournament since 2015. Head coach Ruben Galvan believes his team can change that this fall.

“They’re very dedicated and determined to reach their goal this season,” Galvan said. “It’s been a few years since we’ve made it to the state tournament, so they’re really focused and working hard on that.”

The Comets, Galvan says, are deeper and more balanced than they were a year ago. How successful they are depends mostly on one question: Are they more mature?

“A lot of times we get frustrated when things don’t go our way,” Galvan said. “That’s been one of our weaknesses. We have to let go of the past and regroup.

“We were young last year, and we’re still young, but mentally, we’re stronger.”

West Liberty returns Drake commit Macy Daufeldt, who led the team with 332 kills last season. The sophomore will move from middle to outside hitter to form a lethal one-two punch with returning outside hitter Martha Pace. The junior had 239 kills and had the highest kill efficiency (.433) in the conference among players with at least 50 kills.

They will be complemented by senior Morgan Peterson, entering her fourth year as the starting setter. She’s finished with 700 or more assists in each of her first three seasons.

The Comets, who expect to compete for a River Valley Conference title, also boast a strong defense led by senior defensive specialist Karsyn Ruess. Freshmen Monica Morales (libero) and Rylee Goodale (defensive specialist) lead a strong group of underclassmen competing for playing time.

That blend of defense and offense has West Liberty thinking big in 2019.

“They put in a lot of time this offseason,” Galvan said. “I think our team chemistry is really strong this year."

Beavers retool: The Wilton volleyball team lost four seniors who played every set on last season’s state tournament team that won a school-record 35 matches.

That doesn’t mean the Beavers are starting from scratch.

Battle-tested sophomores Kelsey Drake, Alexa Garvin and Ella Caffery all return after playing significant roles as freshmen.

Drake, who had 141 kills and 219 digs as a freshman, will be an outside and inside hitter as well as the back row setter. Caffery, who had 804 assists, will also set in the back row and swing in the front row.

“I believe other schools will overlook us knowing we graduated some talented seniors,” coach Brenda Grunder said ahead of her 33rd season. "We talk a lot about defense, serve receive and ball control. Right now we’re focusing a lot on defense, and we believe the offense will come.”

The Beavers graduated their top three attackers, including Western Illinois freshman Aubrey Putman, who had 457 kills last season and a school-record 1,598 in her career.

Wilton has just three players older than a sophomore on the roster but plenty of young pieces to build around.

“Even with our youth, we have a lot to look forward to,” Grunder said. “We expect to go out and battle every team in our conference.”

Wildcats starting from scratch: It’s almost impossible for the Durant volleyball team to look much different than the team that went 26-9 and fell one game short of state last season.

Gone are nine seniors, six of which were starters last season. Paul Beadle, an assistant last season, will replace Mark Lau as head coach.

“If we get to .500, that’d be exceeding expectations for this group,” Beadle said. “We don’t have any solidified outside hitters, and we don’t have a middle hitter.”

Durant returns three players who played in at least 20 sets last year in Meg Koenig, Gabrielle Olsen and Kira Schult.

Koenig, a senior, saw time at setter last year and will set and hit this year. Sophomore Ally Happ will provide some punch at outside hitter.

With four players listed at 5-foot-11 or taller last season, the Wildcats totaled 457 blocks, the most in Class 2A. They don’t have any players taller than 5-10 this season, so they'll rely on scrappy defense to lead the way.

“We’re going to be reliant on defense,” Beadle said. “We just have to keep digging them up to where hopefully other offensive hitters get frustrated.”

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