Photo Credit: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Southridge senior setter Nica Loo will be one of the Skyhawks key players this season, both setting up the offense and hitting from the outside.

Other than the three teams Jesuit faced in the 6A state tournament last year, the only squad to take a set off the Crusaders was Southridge.

A program that’s always gone tooth-and-nail with Jesuit and has the gumption to take a shot at the monarchs of Metro, the Skyhawks believe they possess enough returning talent — 10 varsity players are back in the fold to accompany three talented freshmen — to stay close to the Crusaders and remain firmly in the conference championship conversation.

“We have some great experience back, but we need to get our freshmen up to speed and teach them our system,” said head coach Brooke Mayo. “We want to find our team chemistry as far as that leadership and communication piece, which so far has been great. Our seniors and juniors have been great leaders and role models for our younger players on the court.”

Southridge’s core is formed around Sofia Basauri, Kelly McClean, Nica Loo, Megan Ellerton and Sydney Jacobs, who all played integral parts on last year’s squad that was bounced in the first round of the 6A playoffs. Basauri is rehabbing from a sprained ankle and hasn’t reached full speed quite yet. However, when healthy, the outside hitter is capable of carrying her team for long stretches and piling up kills in fast fashion. A passionate player who brings a bundle of emotion to the court, Basauri set a single-game school record for kills against Glencoe last year during the Skyhawks’ playoff defeat.

“She’s going to make a great impact for us,” said Mayo. “We’re definitely looking forward to her coming back healthy and being 100 percent for the entire season.”

Stepping up

Loo is running the 6-2 offense from her setter position while also hitting from the outside and defending the right side of the floor for Southridge. Mayo said Loo’s done a great job of improving her hitting during the club season, and she’s communicating well with her hitters and where they want the ball at the net.

“She’s done a great job of stepping up and leading the team,” Mayo said of Loo.

McClean mans the Skyhawks’ defensive specialist spot and is one of the Skyhawks’ top servers, more experienced players and team captains. The senior is actually a coach for a 14-year-old club team in Beaverton, which Mayo said has given McClean a coach’s perspective.

“She has a really good eye for the game,” said Mayo. “She sees the game a little bit differently than the other players because she’s able to see what our hitters should be looking for as far what spots are open to hit from, what sort of defense the other team is in and where the blockers are blocking. That kind of communication for our hitters is vital, and (McLean) does a great of that.”

Cara McClean — Kelly’s sister — will set for Southridge at times to let Loo move to the outside for hitting purposes. The biggest adjustment for the Skyhawks’ trio of freshmen, Mayo said, is getting up to the speed of Metro play and managing the pace of play.

Freshmen outside hitters Natalie Hoff and Danielle Christiansen will also start as Southridge opens its season with Westview this week.

“The upperclassmen have been very respectful to (the freshmen) because they know they’re a vital piece to our team,” said Mayo. “Both groups have gotten along really well.”

Photo Credit: TIMES FILE PHOTO - Southridge senior defensive specialist Kelly McClean brings a wealth of experience and knowledge to the court for the Skyhawk volleyball team.

Playing hard

It goes without saying that Jesuit is overloaded with returners such as Elise Krippaehne, Nicole Peterson, Katherine Decker, Claire Zanon, Symone Tran back and primed for a state championship-quality season. Sunset, Mayo said, is a big team with a lot of experience, and Beaverton has improved greatly from last year.

“We want to go into each match respecting our opponents and making sure we’re playing as hard as we can,” said Mayo. “We want other teams to play up to our tempo and our level. Of course, we want to be on top of the league. But, we have to take it one match at a time.”

Jesuit’s a juggernaut that only Southridge could touch last year. The Crusaders play the game at another speed, Mayo said, so trying to replicate that pace in practice to prepare for the actual game is vital. Credence and confidence are also key, getting one another to believe Jesuit is human and downable.

“It’s finding the court and where their defense isn’t, and trying to take advantage of it,” said Mayo. “When you’re playing teams that are swinging like that at us, you have to be smart with where you place the ball on offense and what you’re doing with it. Last year, taking a set off Jesuit proved anything is possible. Nobody expected Lakeridge to beat Central Catholic in the state championship, but that proved to teams in our league that any team is beatable.”

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