Year of the Cavaliers?

Clackamas' volleyball team is loaded with experience and talent

CLACKAMAS - This could be the Year of the Cavaliers in Oregon high school volleyball.

The Cavaliers a year ago tied seemingly invincible West Linn for the Three Rivers League crown, earning a share of their first league title since 1996, which was the last year that a Clackamas volleyball team trophied at state. Clackamas was fourth at the Class 4A State Tournament that year.

The Cavaliers have most of the players from last year's team returning, and Clackamas coach Jim Stultz insists they're improved.

'We've got nearly everyone back and they're better skilled,' said Stultz. 'Most of the varsity played club 18-and-under in the gold division, which is the highest division in the Columbia Empire Association.

'They're a lot more experienced. They've been there before, and they've got confidence. They believe in themselves and what they can do….

'I believe they've got the ability to win a trophy at state. When they believe in themselves and play to their ability, they can beat anybody.

'We played [2010 state finalist] Jesuit [in a season-opening jamboree] and beat them. The girls played really well. It was just one game, but they didn't play scared. They played confident.'

Still, Stultz cautioned, 'West Linn's still the favorite [in the TRL], until we beat them. But I think we're closing the gap. We beat teams that beat them [Oregon City and Canby] last year, and we're getting closer. But until we beat team, they're still the team with the target on their back.'

West Linn has won at least a share of the last 15 TRL championships. The Lions have lost only three league matches in the past 11 seasons. And Clackamas has not won a match from West Linn since 1996.

If the Cavaliers break the Lion jinx this fall, they still can't afford to overlook other TRL teams.

'It's a tough, tough league,' Stultz said. 'Oregon City and Canby are always good, and Lake Oswego [which went 4-6 in league last year] has two transfers from Colorado.'

The Cavaliers graduated only two players from last year's team and they return eight of their top nine players from a year ago.

West Linn graduated only three players from last year's youthful lineup. Oregon City graduated seven varsity players, but the Pioneers return nine players with varsity experience. And it was the Pioneers that kept Clackamas out of last year's Class 6A State Tournament, winning a second-round state playoff match in five games, 19-25, 20-25, 25-19, 25-19, 15-12.

Canby has lost a host of varsity players to graduation. But the Cougars have a tradition of producing quality volleyball teams. They went 10-0 in the Pacific Conference in 2009, and they were one of the teams that beat West Linn a year ago.

Back to lead the Cavaliers are five players who garnered TRL all-star honors last season: seniors Kelsie Christensen (5-11 outside hitter), Shantel Gritsch (5-6 libero) and Anna Chizum (5-10 opposite side hitter); and juniors Hannah Stultz (5-7 setter) and Shelby Vasconcellos Mattocks (5-11 outside hitter).

Christensen, Stultz and Vasconcellos-Mattocks were first-team all-league selections in 2010.

'Our goal in league is to take the 'co' off of champions - to beat West Linn,' said Gritsch. 'And our big goal is to win state and bring home a banner.'

Seniors Mikaela Lisoski (5-10 outside hitter) and Nicole Lisoski (5-10 middle blocker) bring additional maturity to this year's 14-player varsity roster.

Rounding out the roster are: juniors Kasey Toedtemeier (5-9 setter), Sydney Wilson (5-6 defensive specialist), Kiana Miller (5-6 defensive specialist) and Claire Walker (5-6 defensive specialist); sophomores Taylor Agost (6-2 middle blocker) and Emma Chizum (5-10 opposite side hitter); and freshman Lauren O'Brien (6-1 middle blocker).

Coach Stultz is especially high on Agost.

'She's the first player I've ever had who has touched 10 feet on her jump reach,' he said.

The Cavaliers host West Linn next Tuesday, as they begin the first of two rounds of league play. They entertain Sunset this Thursday and they vie in a tournament at Aloha on Saturday.

'I want to start a tradition for the younger girls on the team,' said Chizum. 'And it begins with beating West Linn.'

'They've always been our rivals,' said Gritsch. 'We always want to beat them….

'It's been a mental thing. They've been so good, for so long….

'This year will be different. We know we can beat them, and we're going to do it.'