Wood River High School varsity volleyball coach Tim Richards isn't a big fan of coaches who encourage low expectations and vow to have their team in winning shape by tournament time. As he said Wednesday, he'd like to win every match all year.
And Wood River teams have done plenty of winning on the hardwoods—nine consecutive 20-win seasons and an amazing 64-14 in league and Great Basin Conference West play in recent years. They've won three straight 4A league titles.
It might be tougher to maintain that excellence during the 16-match and three-tournament regular season that debuts Saturday, Aug. 29 with a 1:30 p.m. tri meet in Pocatello against host Century and Pocatello.
For one thing, Wood River has shifted from the four-team Great Basin Conference West into the six-team Great Basin with the addition of Twin Falls and new Canyon Ridge of Twin Falls.
Eighth-year head coach Richards (157-104-2) has only one full-time 2008 varsity player returning.
"We'll be starting girls with not as much varsity experience as we've had," he said. "They'll have to learn a faster game, and they'll have to learn to play above the net."
But 2008 Great Basin West "Coach of the Year" Richards is aware of what it takes to consistently compete at the Idaho 4A level. It's tough. You have to be resilient. And Wood River teams have done it in the past—21 district championships and 22 state tournament berths.
At practice he wears a T-shirt that says, "The best places in life are the hardest to get to." Although Wood River lost six seniors including "Co-Players of the Year" Angela Coleman and Kaylee Baker, coach Richards said, "We're not rebuilding. We always try to win every match. We do the best we can with what we have."
He added, "The potential is there but we're very inexperienced and not very tall. We'll try to figure it out."
What Richards and longtime assistant coach Gary Carr have are girls who can hit and set the ball. They are multi-talented.
They'll be looking at junior varsity girls who might step up, as setter Jessica Hamilton did so effectively as a sophomore last season. They're encouraged that 17 freshmen have come out on the 34-player roster, many with good height.
Hitters include senior Grace Lagodich. She is the only full-time varsity player returning from last year's 22-13 squad, which went two-and-out at the State 4A tournament. Other hitters are seniors Ellen Johnson and Monica Garceau. Setters are Hamilton and senior Sara Koonce.
Juniors Jade Glenn, Allie Hesteness and Ali Levy will be key players.
New league addition Twin Falls, last year a 5A program, still looks like a 5A school with most of its players returning, Richards said. He added, "Jerome will be better, Minico has two good seniors and Burley is always competitive and scrappy.
"It looks a little like the old 3A league we had, when any team could win on any night."
Wood River will certainly have a challenge at Century Saturday in its season debut. Century swept Wood River in three quick games in last fall's Great Basin Conference championship match, then took third place in the State 4A tournament behind champion Sandpoint and Bonneville.
The Wolverines will then face Century again in the Highland/Peg Peterson Invitational tournament Sept. 4-5 at Highland High in Pocatello. There are five teams in each of four pools starting action at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Sept. 4. In Wood River's pool are Century, Madison of Rexburg, Skyview of Nampa and Cokeville (Wyo.). Century beat Skyview to clinch third place at state in 2008.
Here is the 2009-10 roster:
WRHS varsity: Coaches—Tim Richards and Gary Carr. Co-captains—Seniors Ellen Johnson and Monica Garceau.
Seniors—Ellen Johnson (5-9 OH/MH), Monica Garceau (5-10 MH/setter), Grace Lagodich (5-9 OH), Sara Koonce (5-6 setter) and Whitnee Dudley (5-5 defensive specialist).
Juniors—Jessica Hamilton (5-7 setter), Jade Glenn (5-11 MH), Allie Hesteness (5-6 libero/OH) and Ali Levy (5-5 OH).
WRHS junior varsity: Coach Anna Edwards.
Juniors—Taylor Gove, Cassi Gorringe and Maddie Uhrig.
Sophomores—Hannah Baybutt, Michaela Rodriguez, Maddi McInnis, Karola Huaire and Macey Farrow.
Freshmen—Sidney Tidwell, Lily Richards, Kori Paradis, Alison Gasenica and Miranda Gasenica.
WRHS freshman team: Coach Nate Kirk.
On the team are Madi Hendrix, Margaret Reutter, Alyse Northrup, Hanna Stocks, Taylor Berntson, Lex Shapiro, Rachel Conover, Nicole Pratt, Mandy Kinsey, Larissa Roberts, Lauren Malone and Keah Jones.