Ken Spielbauer spent 20 years roaming the sidelines in Wapello during volleyball season. This year, he takes charge of the Louisa-Muscatine volleyball program after a year away from the sport.
"I just missed it," Spielbauer said. "I enjoy working with the kids, and it's been fun so far."
The Falcons return key pieces from last year's 6-20 team, headlined by junior Kylee Sanders, who led the team with 57 kills.
Spielbauer sees Sanders and senior Shadyn Bishop as two attackers who will have big roles this season along with sophomore setter McKenna Hohenadel.
"I think Kylee Sanders is going to be a very good hitter," Spielbauer said. "She's pretty athletic. Shadyn Bishop has a chance to be good, and McKenna is pretty athletic and can block."
Hailey Sanders, a senior, got cleared last week after fracturing her fibula over the summer. She had 29 blocks last season, second on the team behind outgoing senior Mariah Pugh.
The Falcons also return senior Maisy Howell, who led the team with 139 assists and added 52 digs last season.
L-M doesn't have a recent history of winning, collecting just 14 match wins in the last five years. As a result, Spielbauer says his group needs to continue to get used to the speed of the game in a new system.
If L-M continues to improve at the pace it has in Spielbauer's first two months in charge, he's confident there will be progress this season.
"I think we'll improve a lot," Spielbauer said. "We'll try to be competitive with the good teams by the end of the year."
Arrows look to rebound: There's no doubt in the mind of second-year coach Danielle Wolfe her team has improved since last season.
Wapello volleyball returns the core of last year's team. However, the Arrows' ability to bounce back from a 12-17 season will be dictated by communication.
"Our weaknesses are serve receive and communication," Wolfe said. "They're so young and haven't always played together.
"We really need to learn to trust each other."
A strength of the team, according to Wolfe, is Wapello's hitting. The Arrows return all but three seniors from last year, which includes Gracie Gustison, who led Wapello with 118 kills and 72 blocks.
The Arrows also return Holly Massner (395 assists), Serah Shafer (162 digs) and AnnMarie Freshwater (81 kills), who Wolfe said has stood out at practice thus far.
Last year was Wapello's first under .500 since 2009, and the Arrows bowed out in the second round of regionals. Wolfe thinks her team is capable of getting back on track this fall.
"We'd like to go past where we went last year," Wolfe said. "The girls are much more motivated because they see the potential we have.
"We're looking to be in the top of our conference."
Wildcats expect to be competitive: The Columbus volleyball team has been young for a couple of seasons. Now that their core group is suddenly upperclassmen, coach Lori Beenen expects the Wildcats to compete better than they did in last year's 5-26 campaign.
"I think we'll be very competitive," Beenen said. "I think we can give some good teams a run for their money."
The Wildcats return a plethora of juniors and seniors, powered by junior and second-team all-conference libero Emma Milder, and second-team all-conference outside hitter Kayla Beenen, a senior.
Lori Beenen said the Wildcats moved Milder from back middle to back left as a libero, and she expects that to open up the offense for Columbus.
The veteran coach also said Columbus should have an improved serve receive on defense and serving on offense.
"We feel like that's going to open up our offensive opportunities," Beenen said. "We practiced those things at Iowa State team camp and liked the changes we put into place."