Excitement is in the air.
Coming off of its first postseason win in a decade, the Coupeville High School volleyball squad returns virtually its entire roster, welcomes a new head coach whose energy is contagious and will play two-thirds of its matches at home.
After two strong seasons under Breanne Smedley, who moved back home to take over the Columbia River program, the Wolves are led by newcomer Cory Whitmore this season.
A teacher at Oak Harbor High School, he already knew most of Coupeville’s players firsthand from his work coaching alongside Smedley with the Whidbey Fury select program.
Now, as he inherits a team which lost only McKenzie Bailey and Sydney Autio to graduation (and Kyla Briscoe to injury), Whitmore is ready to embrace the opportunity.
“Could not be more excited about the season and this group of young women,” he said. “We would love to see the gym packed during home games – it will be a fun season.”
Coupeville, which split two playoff matches in 2015, beating Seattle Christian at home before being edged on the road by Cascade Christian, opens with a possibly unprecedented five straight matches at home.
Overall, they are set to play 9 of 15 matches on their home floor, and perhaps more if the playoff gods smile on them again.
The Wolves won four of their final six matches last season, finishing 6-10 overall, 3-3 in Olympic League play.
The JV went a crisp 7-4 as well, boding well for the future.
Whitmore will have a strong core to lean on as he makes his debut as a high school head coach.
Seniors Valen Trujillo, Tiffany Briscoe and Ally Roberts are the grizzled leaders for a squad which is still remarkably young.
“We have quite a few of our players returning with varsity experience,” Whitmore said. “Valen will definitely be a player to watch on her defensive intensity, calm passing ability and strong leadership.
“Tiffany is also a senior captain and brings a heavy arm-swing and can hit at either pin,” he added.
Junior Lauren Rose and sophomore Ashley Menges will split time at the setter position (“both have worked hard in the off-season to develop their ability to run the offense and both bring a tough serve”), with a number of other players vying for floor time.
“Katrina McGranahan has been making great progress in her attacking ability and is a large block that will give opponents problems,” Whitmore said. “Payton Aparicio is very solid in her passing ability and has a fast approach and quick arm-swing.
“Emma Smith, Ally, Hope Lodell, Sarah Wright and Allison Wenzel each bring something different to the team,” he added. “We have many players that can play numerous positions and bring their all every day, which allows us to have competitive practices, preparing for game situations.”
One newcomer expected to make an impact is junior Mikayla Elfrank, who transferred from South Whidbey last year.
After anchoring the infield at short for the Wolf softball team in the spring, she’s expected to be a three-sport star this time around, adding volleyball and basketball to her duties.
“Mikayla has the ability to play in the middle as well as on the right side, with a strong jumping ability and a fast arm-swing,” Whitmore said.
While his varsity is comprised of battle-tested veterans, the new coach was pleasantly surprised to see how big the turnout for volleyball was overall.
While some other sports at CHS are reportedly down in numbers this fall, the spikers are almost 30 deep.
“We have a strong incoming freshman class that I am very excited about,” Whitmore said. “They have made progress already as a class and are quickly figuring out the system we run and the increased pace and intensity of high school athletics.”
The new volleyball guru wants to build on what Smedley began, keeping everyone’s eyes firmly on the prize.
“My goal for the season would first and foremost be to develop and lead the team to a league championship,” Whitmore said. “From there we will then look forward to making it to state.
“I am fortunate to coach such a hard-working and dedicated group of student-athletes,” he added. “The expectations are high and we look forward to the lofty goals.”
As the Wolves head towards their opener (Sept. 6 at home vs. Mount Vernon Christian), they’re working on fine-tuning their skill set.
“Right now our team strengths start with strong leadership, which is so essential to the success of a season,” Whitmore said. “We also have a tough serve that has potential to frustrate opponents.
“Defensive intensity, both on the block and the back row digging seem to be a strength of ours as well.”
Consistency is the watchword of the day, however.
“We have put a heavy emphasis on tightening our serve receive and offensive firepower,” Whitmore said. “With a more consistent team passer rating, we will be able to use our offensive weapons in numerous positions.
“It all starts with the pass and our team recognizes that as a point of emphasis.”
Klahowya enters the season as the two-time defending league champs, but Whitmore stresses every match, league or non-league, is vitally important.
One slight change is the number of league matches the Wolves will play.
After back-to-back seasons of six, the number is now nine, pitting Coupeville against Port Townsend, Chimacum and Klahowya three times apiece.
The change, which also affects soccer, puts those sports on par with basketball, softball and baseball.
Regardless of the uniform on the other side of the net, the focus is the same.
“We will have to respect everyone that we come up against,” Whitmore said. “This includes non-league games – each and every opponent we face is a chance to get better.
“Focusing on us and taking care of our side of the net is what we will strive to manage.”