Sandy will lean on four seniors in effort to return to state tourney

Photo Credit: SANDY POST: PARKER LEE - Sandys Ashley Laughlin sets the ball to the outside during a match last season.Behind a strong senior class last year, the Sandy volleyball team raced to one of its best seasons in about a decade. With the 2014 campaign finally at hand, the Pioneers will once again lean on its seniors as they look to improve upon a marquee showing a year ago.

The 2013 Pioneers had a core of seven seniors to rely on. This time around, a foursome of 12th-graders will lead the way. Headlining the group is outside hitter Alex Ford. As a junior, Ford was an all-Northwest Oregon Conference first team selection, and that distinction was warranted. Ford was an offensive force who consistently led Sandy in kills. Her efficiency hitting the ball steadily improved as the season progressed which made her a tough assignment for opposing blockers. Ford could also be counted on to come up with blocks and digs in key situations.

Returning with Ford is middle blocker Bekah Mather. Last season, Mather was Sandy’s best defender at the net and she made life more frustrating for just about every hitter the Pioneers faced. Her length also made her a nice hitting target for Sandy’s setters. Mather was a second-team all-league player in 2013, but could easily garner a first-team nod with a solid senior season.

Rounding out the senior class for Sandy are setter Ashley Laughlin and opposite hitter Madison Kansala. Laughlin saw plenty of playing time as a junior. She was effective in her time on the floor and had success setting the ball. Laughlin will be the primary setter this season, but would also benefit the team in a limited libero role.

Kansala was Sandy’s biggest snub from last season’s all-league nominations. She did not receive any recognition, even as an honorable mention, but she should have. Kansala was a formidable offensive weapon on the right side who gave the Pioneer setters multiple options. She was particularly difficult for defenses to account for when she was used as part of a slide play. The Pioneers used the play sparingly, but it worked most of the time.

While the individual skill sets of the four seniors make them fully capable of leading the Pioneers, the experience they bring is even more valuable. They have logged a lot of varsity time and have played in some intense matches. Last season, the team learned how to win tough contests. This year’s seniors helped Sandy win at Sherwood and against Corbett who was the 3A runner-up the previous year. The foursome was also instrumental in Sandy’s play-in game victory over Pendleton.

That experience will be crucial when the Pioneers take on the likes of St. Helens and Wilsonville when conference play begins. Those two schools both finished the regular season ranked in the Top 5. If Sandy, who took fifth place in the league last season, wants to finish in the top half of the NWOC standings, a win over one of those two teams would go a long way.

Fortunately for the seniors, Sandy has solid classes top-to-bottom and they should have some help.

“The returners, along with some athletic and talented newcomers, will combine to lead this team to a successful season,” first-year head coach Shy Davis said. “There is a plethora of dedication and talent and these girls are ready to compete.”

The main goal for this Pioneer squad is to return to the state tournament. When Davis was hired, she said that mark is very attainable.

“These girls are very eager for a great season and have worked hard all summer to prove they are ready to do whatever it takes to make it to the state playoffs,” Davis said. “That is definitely our goal this year and there is no doubt in my mind that we can make it.”

Sandy kicked off its season on Tuesday at Putnam. The Pioneers’ home opener is Thursday at 6:45 against NWOC newcomer, La Salle Prep.

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