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Gresham hitters pack a punch

Gophers expected to battle Central Catholic for title
by: David Ball, Barlow senior Kristel Baeckel goes through a serving drill during a practice session Thursday morning.

VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW - Central Catholic and Gresham each advanced to the state semifinals last year and both teams are poised to a similar playoff run this season.

Following are previews of the five Gresham-area programs:

• Gresham returns plenty of weapons in the front row led by 6-foot-4-inch senior Lana Zielke in the middle. Zielke is joined on the front line by all-league attacker Austyn Castro, who is starting her third season at outside hitter. Senior Erica Vrvilo and juniors Amiee Frutchey and Kyra Speer are also expected to contribute significant kills.

'Defenses won't be able to stack against Lana. They will have to play attention to everyone,' Anderson said. 'The key will be passing the ball forward and using our quickness to get better opportunities for our kids swinging.'

Senior Sarah Beaver will be in charge of directing the attack at setter, while defensive specialist Britani Hathorn will chase down balls in the back row.

• The Raiders will try for a fifth straight playoff appearance, despite graduating several top players from last year's squad. First-year coach Kari Kleinke is looking to extend points this season with talented backcourt seniors Kali Downes and Diana Villapando.

'They're both really quick, and they're great at reading the ball and reacting,' Kleinke said. 'This is going to be a tough team mentally.'

• Barlow will look to a veteran lineup that includes seven seniors to challenge the league's elite teams this fall.

'We have a lot of experience,' Barlow coach LaToya Harris said. 'This is a group that wants to go all out and make the most of their final high school season.'

Middle blocker Kristel Baeckel is the team's top returner along the front row, while Karole Convery, Jaydee Baxter and Brittani Smail give the Bruins a regular rotation of fresh legs in the backcourt.

• Centennial looks to mix a core of veteran players with a few newcomers to improve on last year's three-win season. All-conference setter Emily Carpenter will direct the attack from the middle.

'She's going to be the key,' Centennial coach Kristy Ree said. 'She gets the ball to our hitters consistently, but she's also a threat that blockers have to watch.'

Senior libero Andee Cheek provides some experience in the back row, while junior Vanity Massey and freshman Lindsay Quals will try to make an impact up front. Quals is the team's tallest player at 6-feet-2-inches tall.

• David Douglas is anchored by setter Tabatha Smith, who honed her skills with the Lakeside Volleyball Club during the summer. Senior Raluca Dinca is the team's top target in the front row.

'Our setting is more consistent than it has been in the past, so getting into our offense won't be as much of a challenge,' Scots' coach Michael King said.

An expanded volleyball preview was published in the Saturday, Aug. 26, edition of the Gresham Outlook.