The Gladiators plan on putting a few more games in the win column

Gladstone coach Melanie Althaus is excited about the upcoming volleyball season.

“All of the girls have a good solid understanding of the game,” Althaus said. “Everyone on the team has been in the program since their freshman year. They’re friends off and on the court and there’s great team unity....

“As far as skills, we don’t have any rockstar, but the girls play really well together.”

This is Althaus’ first year as varsity head coach, but she went to school at Clackamas High School with former head coach Emily Smith, and the two have been working to develop Gladstone’s program.

Smith, who gave birth to twins in the spring, is taking a break from coaching while she “takes care of three children under the age of 2,” according to Althaus.

Althaus, who graduated from Clackamas in 2001, signed on as freshman coach at Gladstone three years ago and she has been coaching the jayvee the past two seasons.

“The program has been getting better every year,” said Althaus. “Last year, even though our record didn’t show it, the girls were very competitive. We had a lot of close games.... It’s mostly mental. We haven’t had a league championship since 1983, so no one believes they can win. But I do. The goal this year is to push forward and get the girls believing that they can be successful.”

The Gladiators finished 2-8 in the Tri-Valley Conference last year, but their losses included two five-game matches with Molalla.

This year’s Gladiator varsity roster is not without experience. There were only three seniors on the team last year and seven girls return who saw a considerable amount of varsity playing time last season. This year’s 12-player varsity roster includes seven seniors.

“They’re doing really good on the defensive part of the game,” said Althaus. “And we’re working on being able to run more plays on offense. We just have to build their confidence. One of my goals this year is to get them to be a little more aggressive on offense.”

Players returning from last year’s varsity include: seniors Fiona Burrell (5-8 setter), Meghan Winkle (5-8 setter), Kayla Cavitt (5-7 libero), Taylor Bass (5-5 setter) and Mikayla Kamm (6-1 middle blocker); and juniors Alicia Feb (5-8 middle blocker) and Olivia Goddard (5-6 setter/outside hitter).

Feb and Goddard are seeing their third season of starting action. Goddard received league all-star recognition last year as a sophomore.

Rounding out this year’s varsity roster are: seniors Mikayla Bitter (5-10 middle blocker) and Elizabeth Duong (5-6 defensive specialist), and juniors Sierra Stoutt (5-8 left-side hitter), Emma Szeimies (5-7 left-side hitter) and Decere Tiozon (5-2 libero).

Althaus has retained Corine Lazo, who is in her fourth year in the Gladstone program, to coach Gladstone jayvees. Bree Melton, who has experience coaching in Clackamas’ highly successful recreational program, has been hired to coach Gladstone’s jayvee II team.

Althaus says she expects the TVC to continue as one of the tougher Class 4A conferences in the state, with Estacada, La Salle and Madras continuing to field strong teams.

Madras placed fifth at state last year, while Estacada and La Salle both suffered playoff losses at the hands of 2012 state finalist Astoria. Estacada took the Fishermen to five games in a losing effort.

“I’d like to improve our record,” said Althaus. “I know the girls can compete.”

The Gladiators have until a Sept. 19 match at Molalla to prepare for the league season. They play at Roosevelt this afternoon, at Taft on Friday, and they entertain Tillamook next Monday and Scappoose on Tuesday, Sept. 10.

Althaus, who majored in English and sociology at Willamette University, says she would like to teach high school English some day. Currently she works as an underwriting manager at a local mortgage company.

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