The Class 4A Narrows League arguably is one of the state’s most challenging for volleyball.
And first-year coach CJ Scott has almost no returning experience to navigate through it.
That might be the biggest challenge Scott, who was hired in early May, encounters this season.
“It’s going to be tough,” Scott said. “I think Bellarmine is ranked 44th in the nation, Olympia’s always big and tough. I know Gig Harbor has some big girls and Central Kitsap is always good. It’s a tough league.”
Scott, a 1989 South graduate who previously coached the school’s boys swim program from 1994-98, said he wants to build the Wolves’ program through generating more interest among elementary-school students with clinics and other activities. While those plans are in the early stages as school just started Wednesday, Scott has seen some positive indicators about the program’s popularity. Buoyed by the addition of freshmen competing at the high school, South added a C team and had 45 players tryout. Scott kept 35 within the program.
“It was the biggest turnout I’ve ever seen for volleyball,” senior outside hitter Hannah Spohn said. “It was great to see so many girls tryout.”
But many of those players are freshmen and sophomores. South graduated two of its top players — outside hitter Toni Brown-Bell and middle blocker Danielle Chu — off a team that finished 8-8 overall and 5-7 in league.
The lack of experience does not mean Scott is conceding defeat, though.
“Hard work will overcome a lot of things,” he said.
The Wolves return seniors Spohn and setter/outside hitter Mikaela Strutz. Spohn said the transition to Scott from Jessica Olsen, who resigned after guiding South for nine seasons, has not been difficult. Spohn said both coaches are positive, hands-on instructors that “just explain things in different ways.”
One message that has resonated with Spohn and her peers is the importance of defense in 4A Narrows, which features talents such as Bellarmine Prep’s Courtney Schwan, who has committed to the University of Washington.
“The Narrows League is a really hard league with lots of tall girls — and we’re not very tall,” Spohn said. “This year we’re going to focus on defense, passing and keeping the ball off the floor.”
Spohn cites last year’s home match against perennial league power Olympia as an example of how the Wolves can overcome a talent deficit through strong teamwork. While South did not win that match, it took the Bears to five games.
“We can hang in there with the big guys,” Spohn said. “I’m hoping we can keep that spirit going.”
It starts Tuesday at Kingston. South continues with nonleague matches Wednesday versus Sequim and Thursday at Olympic before it enters league play Sept. 16 against Stadium.
The schedule does not include any tournaments. Scott said he would prefer to schedule one early every season.
“I would like in the future to go play tournaments somewhere … just so they get that experience,” he said. “There weren’t any tournaments by the time I got going. That was a little frustrating.”
Despite that challenge, Scott is ready to hit the court with his assistants. One of his fellow teachers at Sidney Glen Elementary School, Cheryl Spohn, who played volleyball in the 1980s at Eastern Washington University, will guide the junior-varsity squad, while Michelle Duchene will coach the C team.
“I’m just excited because the girls have developed a lot,” Scott said. “Now they just have to get used to playing together.”