Wildcats hoping to be 'mighty' despite having just eight players

by: GREG ARTMAN / FILE - Sophomore libero Skyler Matthews is one of eight players on the Wilsonville volleyball team this year.As it embarks on its first season under coach Kristen Rott, the Wilsonville volleyball team is trying to develop strength in numbers.

Small numbers.

The Wildcats have eight players on their varsity roster, just two more than the necessary amount for a starting lineup, a sharp contrast to teams in the region that carry roughly twice as many.

They only need a few chairs on the bench. They don’t have much depth if injuries crop up. And, at least so far, they don’t seem to mind.

“We have our eight, and everyone contributes in an enormous way,” Rott said. “Although we are few, we are mighty.”

Rott knows the transition will take time. But it hasn’t taken long for Wilsonville, which won just five matches last year under then-coach Melanie Buchanan, to start showing signs of its might.

It won three of its four duels Sept. 5 at a Northwest Oregon Conference jamboree at Liberty High School in Hillsboro, ousting Liberty, Milwaukie and Parkrose. Its only loss that day came at the hands of rival Sherwood.

The Wildcats then defeated Putnam for the first time since 2011, taking a 3-1 (25-17, 25-18, 21-25, 25-14) victory in their league opener at home Sept. 10.

And they’re just getting started.

“It was an encouraging win to start the league season, but it was clear that we have a long way to go in terms of working as a team and minimizing errors,” Rott said. “In the fourth set, we were the tougher serving team. It really comes down to serving and minimizing errors.”

Rott said those aspects of the game will go a long way in determining this year’s league champion, so she’s emphasizing them with a small but talented team that graduated just one player from last year’s roster.

An Oregon City native who played volleyball and basketball at the University of Oregon, she has taken the helm of a program with three returning all-league honorees in juniors Lexy Thompson and Hailey Hayes and sophomore Madi Wardle.

Hayes and Wardle will both be utilized as setters in the Wildcats’ implementation of a 6-2 offense, which Rott believes will showcase her squad’s versatility.

“These are phenomenal girls who have been playing volleyball for a while,” Rott said. “The strategy is to get them to play as a team. We have strong athletes and good talent, but we have to make sure we’re working as a team and not as individuals out there.”

Rott’s roster also includes seniors Rebecca Wenz and Kyanna Swendseid, junior Kyra Austin and sophomores Skyler Matthews and Genna Florig.

A middle hitter who is still figuring out how to use her 6-foot-1 frame, Florig has shown great potential so far this season.

“She’s getting there and fun to watch,” Rott said.

The development of Florig and the other players will likely be crucial as Wilsonville aims to regain relevance in Class 5A. The program has not posted a winning season since 2010 and has not won a state playoff game since 2007, when it placed third in the OSAA tournament.

As for the Wildcats’ small roster, it isn’t due to lack of interest from the student body.

Rott said she started preseason practices with 15 girls, including a large group of seniors. But many of them had opted out by the end of daily doubles.

So she’s left with eight.

“The girls were very eager to have a coach with high expectations,” Rott said. “I haven’t had any backlash. The girls who want to be here and want to win are here.”

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