By Mike Stetson
Losing a half dozen seniors off a national tournament team might worry some coaches, but College of Idaho’s Liz Mendiola actually feels pretty good about her volleyball team this season.
Despite losing several of their top hitters and blockers, the 16th-ranked Coyotes — who started the season 2-3 over the weekend at the Tournament of Champions in Salt Lake City — have some vital returners at key positions to build upon this season.
“There’s no doubt we miss those seniors, they made such a big impact on our program,” Mendiola said. “The nice thing is we do return a really strong senior class this year, and a lot of our leadership last year did come from (this senior class) as well.”
Back is the Yotes libero and both of setters, along with a few offensive threats who give Mendiola and the C of I reason not to fret.
“It’s nice to know our ball control and our defense are going to be there,” Mendiola said. “And I think we have a group of kids who have the mentality to make it consistent night in and night out, that definitely helps in every facet of the game.”
• In volleyball, everything truly revolves around the setter, and the Yotes return two three-year starters in seniors Madie Machurek and Naomi Reimer, who are fifth (1,915) and sixth (1,476) on the all-time assists list at the college, respective.
Over the weekend the two continued to lead as Reimer had 104 assists and Machurek 94.
The Yotes will again use a 6-2 formation that allows the team to keep three hitters in the front row at all times.
• Speaking of hitting, the C of I returns junior Ciciley Fox, who had 214 kills last season, Sarah Harris (Buhler), who is back from a redshirt season, Reimer, who had 212 kills last season, and sophomore Madison Curtis, who Mendiola said is ready to step in after playing in 12 matches as a freshman.
“(Sarah)’s playing her best volleyball of her career,” Mendiola said of the Middleton High product who will see time as and outside hitter and middle blocker.
“(Ciciley) really plays consistently well, and she’s taken on shouldering a little more of the load this year, which she was ready for.”
• On defense, Fox, Machurek and Reimer all will help out, but senior libero Whitney Owen will anchor things. The Cascade Conference libero of the year had 608 digs last season, and started this year with 74 over the weekend in Utah.
• With both middle blockers and both a right side and outside hitter graduating, the C of I will need players to step up at the net.
“We definitely need more players to fill those offensive roles,” Mendiola said, adding that freshman Liz Myers, from Middleton, will be one of those to fill in. The Yote middle blocker started her college career with 24 kills and 22 blocks in Utah.
She’ll be helped by BYU-Hawaii transfer Kylee Nawahine and College of Southern Idaho transfer Danielle Montalbo, along with returning junior Nathy Neres, who was slowed last year by a knee injury.
“(Danielle and Kylee) come in with some college experience under their belt and I think that really shows, and they’re a big part of why our newcomers feel like they’ve been here all along for us,” Mendiola said.
• Help in the back row will come from freshman Janel Porter out of Rocky Mountain High.
“She has very seamlessly stepped in and adjusted to the college game really well,” Mendiola said, “... She has great ball control and great court sense. She’s made our defense all that much stronger.”
After winning or sharing the Cascade Conference title the last four seasons, and making nationals four times in the last five years, the expectations are high for the C of I.
But the Yotes losses also haven’t gone unnoticed as the College of Idaho was picked to finish second behind Southern Oregon by league coaches.
“I think we’re going to be right in there,” Mendiola said, “we’ve got a lot to prove after having lost a lot, but I really like this group. I think their mindset is really good and I think they’re a team that is not going to be satisfied with being anything else but first.”