BY PAUL HINES
MT. VERNON —
Last season was the most successful volleyball year in about a decade for the Lady Rams.
Not only did Mount Vernon finish with a winning record, the Lady Rams piled up 16 victories throughout the season. The Lady Rams entered the postseason but lost in three games in the opening round of the regional to rival Centralia.
Angie Higgins had 36 girls try out for the volleyball squad this season and kept 29 the freshman, junior varsity and varsity squads.
“We're just really trying to figure out where everybody's going to play,” Higgins said. “These next couple weeks (preparing for the opening match) we're just trying out people in different positions and focusing on the fundamentals.”
Mt. Vernon will have the task of replacing graduated veterans Kelby Kujawa, Aaliyah Palmer and Taylor McGowen. All played huge roles in Mt. Vernon's success a season ago.
“The seniors last year, they all played a lot,” Higgins said. “They were in every game, almost all game.
“They'll have some big shoes to fill, but I know that the seniors and juniors are coming up this year so they'll do great.”
The Lady Rams will also be without Molly Koester. The senior started consistently during the fall, but hasn't recovered from a knee injury.
“That's the biggest one we're trying to figure out right now,” Higgins said. “We were expecting to have Molly back for a long time,” Higgins said. “So that's a last minute thing we're trying to decide on.”
Koester was an outside hitter for the Lady Rams a season ago as a junior.
“She played hard every game,” Higgins said. “Her hitting really turned on the beginning of last season. It was kind of a blow to the team, and I know she's really upset about it because it's her senior year.”
Rachel Kirsch is expected to move into Kelby Kujawa's spot in the starting lineup. Whitney Jones will take over for Taylor McGowen.
“(Jones) was mostly JV time last year … but she did a great job on JV.”
Hannah Owens and Kirsten McGowen will be key to Mt. Vernon's front row. Higgins said Owens will be a key blocking presence for the Lady Rams. McGowen will be a middle hitter.
“(Kirsten) has been busy coming to open gyms and working out,” Higgins said. “She's just such a hard worker. Her hitting is coming on as well. Her blocking has actually gotten a lot better as well.
“Hannah is the same way. Hannah has been at volleyball camp all summer. She's been to camps all around the area. So she's really kind of been trying to focus on her hitting and passing. Hannah will be a big player for us. She'll be a big blocker.”
Higgins added that Owens is one of several players who brings an athletic presence to the Lady Rams squad.
“I think a lot of the younger girls are looking to her because she is getting better and has that leader personality,” Higgins said. “We have a lot of younger athletes and hopefully they take something from Hannah and Kirsten and the other older girls that know even if you're an athlete you still have to work at it.”
Hannah Carbonaro spent last season as the junior varsity setter and moves up to varsity this fall. Palmer was the Lady Rams setter a season ago.
Alexis Stewart returns as the team's libero.
The Lady Rams will also get a boost from Madalina Overstreet and Olivia Rios who return to the squad and will play in the back row. Makiah Rush also moves up to the varsity level this season.
Mt. Vernon opens its season at Webber on Sept. 2.