There's an air of positivity radiating from the gymnasium at Woodburn High School. With the beginning of the 2017 volleyball season finally here, members of the Bulldogs varsity team are chomping at the bit to put their months of practice to the test.
Woodburn has been working almost nonstop over the summer since the end of school last May, but the team's bonds go beyond the last three months.
"I've been playing with these girls since eighth grade as a club team," senior Domnika Krivoshein said.
It's a sentiment that is echoed by other returning members from last year's varsity team, who cite positivity as one of the Bulldogs' biggest strengths coming into the season, not just on the varsity roster, but across the JV and freshman teams, too.
"I've known these girls for so long," junior Bailey Woolley said. "I've played club with many of them."
Krivoshein and Woolley are two of five players on the team this year who return with varsity experience, along with seniors Jennifer Martinez and Devanne Ott-Parker and junior Suzy Matveev. Although Woodburn brings a wealth of experience to the table this year, the team's veterans can't stop talking about the program's young players.
"I'm really excited to see how the freshmen grow, especially the ones that are on varsity already," Woolley said. "They're at such a high level – they're so much above where I was when I began."
Woodburn's varsity roster features two freshmen this year — Tatyana Kalugin and Larissa Krivoshein — the first two freshman to make the team in head coach Doyle Tracy's three-year tenure with the program.
"That's unheard of for Woodburn volleyball," Matveev said. "I think it's really fun to welcome them, teach them and know that when we're gone, they're going to be here."
The returning players are excited to take the younger girls under their wings and put them into position to succeed when it's their turn to take over the program.
"The best part about this is teaching the younger girls," Matveev said. "If we teach them well, then they're going to bring that on when we're gone."
Woodburn's varsity, JV and freshman teams do not get selected until the tail end of August, meaning that throughout most of the three-month summer practice season, the Bulldogs operate as one cohesive group. There's no varsity/JV split, no distinction between seniors and freshman, no division between players from each of Woodburn's four small schools. Everyone is a Bulldog and is working to get better not just as individuals, but as a team and a program.
Those months of open gym practices and workouts galvanize the team, helping to breed the kind of camaraderie and spirit that have the program's returning veterans excited for the coming season.
"I think communication is a big strength for us," Woolley said. "We bond really well. We have a nice team and we all get along really well."
That positivity will be a crucial resource for the Bulldogs as the season gets underway. Woodburn's program has long been behind that of the other schools in the Mid-Willamette conference, as the team struggles to find victories each year. Woodburn's only wins in the past two seasons have come in non-conference tournaments.
None of the team members have experienced a win against a league opponent, and as the losses mount, the positivity in the locker room and on the court can mean the difference between a good season and a bad season.
"We're so outgoing as a team," Krivoshein said. "I feel like we'll have our ups and downs, but we'll come together because I feel like we're the strongest when it comes to spirit."
That doesn't mean Woodburn goes into the season expecting to lose — just that they know how difficult those victories are and what they mean to the team when they come.
"Our biggest goal is to win," Woolley said. "Just take a game from one of the teams. Since we took a set from South Albany at the first jamboree, we're hoping we can continue to do that later on in the season and hopefully get our first win in a while."
Woodburn's last conference victory came in 2010 against that same South Albany program, back when the members of the current varsity roster were in elementary school. This year's team is looking to break that streak and put Woodburn back in the win column. And make no mistake, they'll be doing it with an air of optimism every step of the way.
"Hopefully a couple wins, but if not, then we'll get better as a team and be friends," Matveev said. "We're all friends here."
Woodburn was scheduled to open the season Saturday at a tournament hosted by McKay High School. The Bulldogs' home and league opener was scheduled for Tuesday against South Albany. Woodburn returns home on Sept. 14 against Crescent Valley.
Coach: Doyle Tracy
2016: 1-21 overall, 0-14 Mid-Willamette Conference (8th)
Key losses: Sofia Seledkov (HM All-Conference)
Key returners: Devanee Ott-Parker, Sr. (HM All-Conference); Suzy Matveev, Jr. (HM All-Conference); Jennifer Martinez, Sr.; Domnika Krivoshein, Sr.; Bailey Woolley, Jr.