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Familiar faces for Kentwood volleyball
by Alexandra Bolton
Stepping into the disorienting mix of shouting, the hollow ring of a struck ball and the agonizing squeal of skin sliding across hardwood that proclaims a valiant dig attempt is to enter the fiercely competitive atmosphere that is typical of Kentwood volleyball’s daily practice.
The Conqueror’s gym is also a place of high, yet grounded hopes for this year’s girls volleyball team. The team has a strong core of returners including three seniors that have been on varsity together since their freshmen year: Sarah Toeaina, Lauren Hackett, and Mele Halahuni. After three seasons away from Kentwood Bil Caillier returns as head coach.
“I don’t want to be cliché, but it’s hard to avoid it,” Caillier said. “We want all those things like to win the league, to win a district title, to go to state, to win state. We want all those things, but I don’t think that’s what we use to measure ourselves. That’s just a nice little benefit of getting really good.”
Senior Sarah Toeaina agreed the team will try to take it one match at a time.
Toeaina, who also played varsity basketball and track since she her freshman year at Kentwood, has the potential to be the first female 12 letter winner in Kentwood history. She is confident that the team’s unification and the positive energy at practice these first few weeks hold promise for the team as they start their journey.
“We have been very outgoing these first few weeks because we have to get to know each other,” Toeaina said.”We are family on and off the court.”
Personally, she is focusing on improving in a new position this season, moving from middle hitter to outside right and expanding her hitting prowess.
While last year’s playoff loss to Auburn Riverside certainly remains fresh in the minds of the returners, Toeaina said the game will serve as a learning experience and motivation.
Hackett said getting bounced from the playoffs so soon was unexpected.
“I didn’t think that could happen,” Hackett said. “We have a reputation that we need to keep going.”
Finishing second in state two seasons ago certainly speaks of great potential for this program, but also of disappointment and a renewed sense of purpose this season.
Hackett could be key in helping the team uphold a legacy of state appearances and maybe this year, victories.
“I didn’t think of myself as a leader until I looked back and saw all the freshmen, sophomores, and juniors that were looking up to me,” Hackett said. “At first it was pressure, but I think the fact that Sarah and Mele have been on varsity all four years and we have grown up together has helped me. All the decisions we make, we work together.”
Committed to play at California Baptist University after graduation, Hackett embodies Cailler’s coaching philosophy, which is oriented around improvement versus results.
“The only reason I play volleyball is because it’s fun
for me. I’m a competitive person, but I’m not trying to go to the Olympics,” Hackett said jokingly. “For me it’s only fun when everybody is trying their hardest.”
The girls seem to be doing just this, maintaining high-intensity competition and making themselves and each other better every day.
The Conquerors hope their work ethic, team chemistry, and strong leadership will prove a potent enough combination, especially against opponents like Auburn Riverside. The Ravens return a powerful roster this season, despite losing SPSL North 4A Co-MVP Brenna Bruil to graduation.
Kentwood won’t get a chance to avenge its loss to Riverside until the end of the SPSL North regular season when the teams meet Oct. 29 on the Conquerors home floor.
Alexandra Bolton is a freelance reporter and 2009 Kentlake High graduate. Reach her at email@example.com. To comment on this story log on to www.covingtonreporter.com.