West Linn looks to continue 2017's success in 2018 season
The 2017 season was one for the history books in West Linn volleyball.
The Lions went unbeaten to win the Three Rivers League title, won twice in the Class 6A state playoffs to reach the state tournament for the first time since 2013, then won twice more at state to finish third in what turned out to be longtime head coach Carl Neuberger's final season.
Now, operating under new head coach Michelle Hoover — a longtime varsity assistant under Neuberger and a former head coach at Wilsonville — the Lions are ready for more.
While the Lions must replace graduated first-team all-leaguers Abby Fillion and Isabella Bean — and adjust to Hoover's new role — there's plenty of talent back for 2018. This year's team features 2017 TRL Player of the Year Ellie Snook (a 5-foot-7 senior libero who was also named all-state), senior middle blocker Erika Isaacson (an 6-0 honorable mention pick a year ago), senior setter Hannah Hashbarger (a 5-8 honorable mention pick) and sophomore outside hitter Audra Wilmes (a 6-1 honorable mention transfer from Canby).
"Ellie is the anchor on the team as the libero," Hoover said. "Ellie is a solid passer and a quick, efficient digger for the Lions. She has excellent court vision and speed to the ball."
Hashbarger, meanwhile, "brings a wealth of setting knowledge and a hunger for the game. She is taking the younger athletes under her wing and helping them to learn the traditions of Lion volleyball," Hoover said, adding that Isaacson is "explosive and quick to the ball. She has a true love for the game and her teammates. She will be a huge part of our offense and our leadership."
Hoover also expects significant leadership from senior outside hitter Kayla Moss (5-9), senior outside hitter Isabell Forster (5-9) and senior defensive specialist Ellie Naone (5-8), and varsity returners Claire Matthiessen (a 5-10 junior outside hitter), Makayla Long (a 6-0 sophomore outside hitter), Riley Guthrie (a 6-1 junior middle blocker) and Kate Griffin (a 5-7 sophomore setter).
"Our leaders are our six seniors," Hoover said. "Each of them brings a different piece of the puzzle (and) they hold each other accountable to the goals the team has placed upon themselves."
The addition of Wilmes following her successful freshman season at Canby comes as an added bonus for Hoover in her first year as head coach.
"She is an immediate impact player who can play all the way around," Hoover said. "She is extremely coachable and eager to learn. She will have a big presence on the left for the Lions."
As to presence, Long's expanded role in the coming year is also expected to pay big dividends.
"Makayla is a powerful player who is quick and agile," Hoover said. "She is a natural leader who pushes her teammates. She will be a force in the middle for the Lions with her quickness and natural blocking ability."
Also ready to contribute to the varsity are junior outside hitter Lauren Knutson (5-8), freshman outside hitter Emily Warmenhoven (5-8) and sophomore defensive specialist Lily Snook (5-7).
Now, however, the Lions have to take all these pieces and form a new unit.
"The girls want to compete at the highest level to stay on top of the TRL," Hoover said. "Our success lies in their day-to-day work ethic and how they work together as a team. These girls have great leadership from each other to support the whole process."
That said, the 2018 TRL race should be a thriller, with Lake Oswego and Sherwood bringing back four all-leaguers, and Tualatin three.
"This is an incredibly tough league to compete in. Every night we play is a battle," Hoover added. "Any one of these teams in the TRL can compete to win the title. … I am excited to see how it all plays out."