You need a powerful hitter to win consistently as a small school in Idaho prep volleyball, and it doesn't hurt to have two cannons and a reliable block if you're a larger school.
But if you don't have a killer like Twin Falls junior middle Cheltzie Williams—this year's dominant Great Basin Conference player—and you can't block strong-arms like Minico's Breonna Phillips and Chelsea Hepworth, what do you do?
Lacking height and athleticism, you've got to play some killer defense, refuse to let anything touch the floor and pass intelligently. Bear Lake of Montpelier and St. Maries did it for years with smallish 3A teams, and each ran off a bunch of state championships.
The 2009 Wood River High School Wolverines of coaches Tim Richards and Gary Carr don't have the dominant hitters that helped the respected Hailey program to three straight Great Basin titles and a 64-14 league mark in recent years.
What they do have, excellent defense, was on full display Tuesday when Wood River polished off Burley 25-22, 25-14, 25-6 on the Hailey hardwoods. The Wolverines improved each game and got contributions from all 10 varsity players.
"The girls were moving their feet and trying to cover and touch everything," said Richards. "In volleyball, the energy comes from your defense, and defense is passing. Our passers really picked it up. What we want to do as a team is have a bunch of good players and have everybody contributing, like we did tonight."
Burley's senior outside hitter Teresa Wayment (10 kills) issued a challenge with seven kills in the first game as the Bobcats (2-9, 1-7 league) jumped out to 9-1, 11-4 and 19-15 leads. In matches earlier this season, Wood River might have faded.
As Richards said, his team never gave up during last weekend's Mountain View Invitational tournament in Boise, and they never gave up against Burley Tuesday.
After a big block by junior Jade Glenn (6 kills, 4 blocks), Wood River senior Ellen Johnson (5 kills, 10 winning serves) came up big with a serving ace for a 20-20 tie.
Wood River won the first game 25-22, junior libero Ali Levy (7 serve winners) finishing it at the stripe.
The Wolverine defense dashed Burley's resolve with dig after dig, and pass after pass, in the 25-14 second game victory. Jessica Hamilton, Levy, Allyson Hesteness and Whitnee Dudley all came up with nasty digs and passes to thwart and frustrate Burley—and to set the offense in motion.
Senior Grace Lagodich (11 kills, 13 winning serves) started heating up with six kills in the second game. Then Wood River blew Burley away in the third game—Lagodich staking her team to a 7-0 lead at the serving stripe, and Hamilton serving eight straight late-game winners with Glenn quietly dominating at the net.
Richards said, "Some of our seniors are really putting it all together as they realize their time is getting short. It's nice to have a player like Whitnee Dudley have a good match."
Co-captain Monica Garceau (7 kills), Hamilton (4 kills, 10 serves) and freshman Lily Richards (4 kills, 3 serves, 1 ace) came through, and freshman Madison Hendrix served two winning points in the third.
Wood River's momentum into Tuesday's match started at last weekend's Mountain View Invitational. The results weren't great, but Richards said, "we had a lot of consistency, and it was probably the best we've played so far, all around as a team all season."
In Friday's round-robin pool play of the 24-team meet, Wood River split games with Borah of Boise and Caldwell, and dropped a 25-23, 19-18 match to Boise. Saturday's format called for quick one-game matches, and Wood River beat Vallivue, Coeur d'Alene and Columbia.
The results gave Wood River the top seed in its bracket, the Silver Division. In that tournament, the Wolverines defeated Nampa 25-16, 25-17 and lost to Middleton 25-15, 27-25. Borah went on to win the Silver Division in three games over Middleton, 16-14 in the finale.
Richards said Jade Glenn played her best as a blocker, and Grace Lagodich did her best all season as an outside hitter. Ali Levy moved to the important libero position and played very well, he said.
The Wolverines are off to Twin Falls Saturday for a triangular meet with Twin Falls and Pocatello starting at 1 p.m.
Wood River (14-14, 4-3 league) and Jerome (4-12, 3-4) will play Tuesday, Oct. 13 in Hailey in a match likely to determine the third and fourth seeds for the six-team Great Basin tournament starting Oct. 19. It will be "Senior Night" for the Wolverines next Tuesday.
Currently, Twin Falls (10-3, 7-0 league) has the inside track on the regular-season league title and will battle Minico (9-3, 7-1) for that distinction in Rupert Oct. 15. New school Canyon Ridge of Twin Falls (0-7 league) is destined for #6 seed.