DURANT, Iowa — The Durant High School volleyball team is in capable hands after a move nearly 15 years in the making.
Renee Meyer, a former softball head coach at Durant, will take over the reigns of a volleyball squad that returns five starters from a team that reached the regional semifinal last season.
Meyer replaces John Walsh, coach of the Wildcats for the last 16 seasons. Meyer was a coach for the Wildcats freshman/sophomore team for five years ending in 2005 and starting again in 2012.
She led Durant softball to its first state tournament appearance in school history in 2007, prior to Durant's back-to-back appearances in the 2012 and championship-winning 2013 seasons.
"It's definitely a smooth transition," Meyer said. "I had open gyms this summer and I'm familiar with a lot of the girls."
And most of those girls are building on experience from last season.
Jaclyn Ralfs, Courtney Ralfs, Shannon Telsrow and Sarah Nanninga accounted for 533 of Durant's 660 kills in 2013. That quartet also served in 103 aces and 116 total blocks for the 12-19 Wildcats.
"We should be very competitive in our conference," Meyer said. "Our seven seniors will lend experience and great leadership."
Newcomers include Brinn Grunder at outside hitter and defensive specialists Cathy Ralfs and Peyton Miedema in the back row.
"Brinn hit the weight room hard all summer and it shows, she hits the ball hardest out of any of the girls," Meyer said. "Peyton and Cathy are good kids that would be willing to run through a brick wall. They're quick and not afraid to dive on the floor to dig a ball up."
West Branch dispatched Durant in straight sets in last November's regional semifinal, and the Bears are a primary hurdle to the Wildcats' postseason success with several returning starters of their own.
"We want to focus on big blocks and attacking at the net and we hope that our play will remain solid through the season," Meyer said.
BEAVERS TO MIX EXPERIENCE LEVELS: Wilton seniors Grace Austin, Katie Owens and Gaby Keith are among returning starters for the Beavers, a team that otherwise graduated five seniors from last season, including leading attacker Karlie Broders.
Austin and Owens had 119 and 98 kills last season, respectively. The duo was also effective on defense and at the service line, areas where Keith and junior Megan Drumm should contribute as well.
Keith had the second-most digs on the team with 220. Drumm added 130 digs and was the team's best server with a .954 serving efficiency rating and 17 ace serves.
Underclassmen newcomers include sophomore Amanda Fowler and freshmen Lexi Maurer and Callie Milder.
"We will be relying on players that have been starting for us for three years and younger players with one or no years of experience at the varsity level," Wilton coach Brenda Grunder said. "We will need to rely on defense, quickness, endurance and hustle."
At 6-feet tall, Broders, who nows plays at Indian Hills Community College, had 271 kills and 52 blocks as one of Wilton's best threats at the front of the net.
"We will be shorter, but faster than in previous seasons," Grunder said. "We want to be defense-oriented and digging effectively."
COMETS QUICK ON DEFENSE: West Liberty will rely on a quick back row led by University of Iowa verbal commit Molly Kelly that should keep the Comets alive in long rallies.
Kelly and setter Cassedi Simon were both first-team All-RVC selections last season. Middle hitter Hailey Daufeldt was selected to the second team.
After a 19-13 season, the Comets, ranked ninth in the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union Class 3A preseason rankings, were knocked out in the first round of the regional tournament last season by 3A state semifinalist Mount Vernon in straight sets.
Teams like Mount Vernon and some of the top-flight RVC teams likely await in the postseason, but the Comets won't be backing down while trying for a return to the state tournament after the last trip in 2011.
"I think our back row can handle the big hitters in our conference," Kelly said. "We don't have any excuses, we want to be competitive and stay hungry for every point."