By the end of last season, the Lake Oswego volleyball team had turned into one of the best squads in the state. But the Lakers had to overcome a horrible start and were forced to scramble just to make the playoffs.
This year, coach K.T. Emerson would like to see her team get off to a fast start and avoid putting so much pressure on itself at the end.
That's probably not asking for too much, though, especially since the Lakers have one of their most talented teams ever.
'We have a great talent base and I think we have more depth than we've ever had before,' Emerson said after watching her team beat Putnam in straight sets last Thursday.
The key to the team's depth is at the middle blocker position, where four players could see action on a regular basis. Two of them - 6-foot junior Anna Gornbein and 5-9 junior Cassie Mitchell - are good enough to hold down the position by themselves.
Gornbein showed her prowess at a weekend tournament at David Douglas, where she 'blocked very well all day and at key times,' Emerson said.
Mitchell, meanwhile, might be the team's poster girl for hustle. Emerson noted that Mitchell 'always gives more than 100 percent,' especially in practice.
The other two players on the middle blocker depth chart - 5-9 senior Devon Brown and 6-foot junior Sarah Porter - are both excellent blockers, the coach said. But, with Gornbein and Mitchell in the middle, Brown and Porter will also see a significant amount of time at the outside hitter positions.
And the outside spots are strong positions for the Lakers as well. That's where 5-10 junior Keri Nielsen resides. At times, she looked like the best player on Lake Oswego's team last year.
Also playing on the outside is 5-7 senior Mackenzie Walen, who Emerson calls the most consistent player on the team. 'She does a lot of intangible things,' the coach said. 'She's good at keeping the girls pumped up.'
In addition, freshman Claire Underwood and junior Hannah Niestradt will play important roles as outside hitters. Plus, they have the capability of playing in the back row when needed, Emerson said.
The setter position, meanwhile, will be shared by sophomore Amy Carlton and senior Michelle Tercek. Emerson said both do a good job of getting the ball to the hitters. 'And they both do a great job of bringing it in practice,' the coach said.
The top defensive players are junior Tai Locke and sophomore Rachel Novitsky. In the David Douglas tournament, Locke was probably the team's top passer, and she also managed to 'dig a ton of balls,' the coach said.
After a productive opening week of the league season, the Lakers faced a rugged second week, which featured a match at Clackamas on Tuesday and a match at Lakeridge tonight (Thursday).
Unfortunately, the Lakers lost to Clackamas in five sets and did so despite winning the first two sets.
This week's road matches began a string of six consecutive road contests for the Lakers. Then, Lake Oswego will be back at home for three consecutive weeks.
'That will be interesting,' said Emerson, who noted that her girls are anxious to prove that they can play as well on the road as they do at home.
'I think they're looking forward to it,' the coach added. Plus, 'it will be good to get our road matches out of the way.'