Sports Notebook: Central Valley teams ready for fall campaign
By Mike Vlahovich
Before the hallways of Central Valley High School fill with returning students, the athletic facilities have been buzzing with the respective fall sports teams readying for the season.
Central Valley's volleyball team couldn't go to Chicago, so second-year coach Amanda Bailey brought Chicago to CV.
Bailey said she knew of the instructional Chicago Volleyball Camp before coming to CV.
"It's been around since the 1980s, is very successful, so we flew them in and they did a five-day camp for us," she said.
Tailored for the Bears' specific needs, the focus was on passing and defense to avoid last year's roller coaster ride.
"I felt it was an area we could really improve on in a camp like that," Bailey said. "The kids got a lot of touches on the ball."
CV returns nearly its entire roster and all but one starter on a team that earned just the second state berth in team history and was the only east regional qualifier of four to win a match. The losses came to the state fourth- and fifth-place finishers.
But it was inconsistency that did in the Bears, who finished fourth in league last year, and an area addressed by the Chicago visit.
"We played really well early in the matches and kind of fell flat at the end," Bailey said. "Or we'd wait too long to get going."
The Bears need to find a middle, but returning All-GSL players Kazlyn Roullier and junior Keann White provide plenty of offense. The Bears have several liberos to choose from and depth at the other positions as well, Bailey said.
"We have hitters all over the court," she said. "We'll probably bring a player from junior varsity to play in the middle."
Other players who were part of last year's state effort include seniors Kara Nitteberg, RaSasha Montgomery, Elena Wolf, Erica Burk and basketball star Madison Hovren; juniors Taryn Ungaro, Keann White and twins Jade and Meghan Rockwood.
Members of this year's Central Valley boys cross country are going to need mouthwash, quipped coach Kieran Mahoney. But it wasn't entirely in jest. Last year's subpar effort at the State 4A race - third-place team finish notwithstanding, he said - left bad tastes in their mouths.
"They're on fire with a hunger inside to have some redemption for how they finished out the season," Mahoney said.
Four members of that team are back, and another who had a strong track season bolsters the veteran team that expected to finish second behind heavily favored runaway winner Gig Harbor a year after the Bears were state champions. They trained with a purpose over the summer, said their coach.
Leading the charge is Briton Demars, the school junior 1,600 meter record setter last spring. He's joined by state vets Steven Heintz, Spencer Jensen, Caleb Nicholls. Colton Pegram, a state runner in 2012, but not last fall, had a strong track season. Behind them are youngsters vying for the other two varsity spots.
"We didn't have a very good day at state," said Mahoney. "We're looking to be the hungriest team out there."
While the boys were bringing home a third-place state trophy, the girls brought home hardware of their own, taking fourth. Like the boys, they also have legitimate expectations of finishing higher.
The Bears graduated nary a runner on that team and can be even stronger this year. At state, six of seven runners were either sophomores or freshmen. Sarah White, Briegan Bester and Kearan Nelson finished between 35th and 40th. Brielle Crump, Kayla Boyer, Sidney Hogberg and Olivia Baddeley rounded out that lineup. And another freshman distance runner, Gabrielle Ford, burst onto the scene in track.
Unlike the current state of political partisanship, slowpitch and fastpitch softball can mutually co-exist. Indeed, says CV coach Joe Stanton, the two seemingly disparate games actually complement each other.
"The biggest thing in slowpitch is the ball is hit every single at bat, and it forces you to make plays and get outs. You don't have the luxury of a dominant pitcher with nine, 10, 11 strikeouts per game," Stanton reasoned. "I think that carries over into the spring, where defensively it makes you better."
The fall Greater Spokane League slowpitch season begins this month. Since 90 percent of his players do both sports, it provides coaches an extra five weeks to prepare for spring.
The major difference between the games apart from the high arcing fall pitch versus the sizzler in spring is that slowpitch has a fourth outfielder, and runners can't put the game in motion because they can't lead off or steal.
But other aspects of the game are the same, with emphasis on defense and, believe or not, similar hitting technique.
"It's kind of funny," Stanton said. "A lot of people disagree with having kids playing slow pitch because it tweaks their swing. I absolutely think it does not. The mechanics we talk about in the fall we talk about in the spring."
If anything, he continued, the swing slows in the fall enabling players to understand what they do incorrect and adjust.
"It's huge for me," Stanton said. "I can see their hands drop or their hips not turning. It's hard to show that when you face a 55-60 mile an hour pitch."
And those who argue it affects timing for fastpitch, Stanton counters that fastpitch hitters can get in the cage during winter and have three months to get it back.
"They don't mesh perfectly, but I think there're many more pros than cons." he said.
CV has graduated a lot of players over the past two years, but expect the team, annually in the thick of things whether playing slow or fast, to be competitive.
What can Central Valley soccer players do for an encore? Why, a repeat state title, naturally.
"That's what every coach plays for," said coach Andres Monrroy, when asked if he was still savoring last year's 4A championship. "Of course we want to go back and compete for the state title again."
The Bears do have the goods. Twelve players return from last year's team, including, three of them first team All-Greater Spokane League. Losing second-team midfielder, Hailey Spooner, to injury last spring is a blow.
"Pretty much everybody who played has come back," Monrroy said. Plus, there are sophomores waiting in the wings.
Another sophomore, forward Kelsey Turnbow, already has a year under her belt and led the Bears in scoring. Other first-team All-GSL players are seniors, defender McKenna Stocker, who was second team All-State, and midfielder Megan Dimmler. The trio forms the nucleus of this year's squad.
The Bears have big shoes to fill in graduated goalkeeper Jessie Kunz-Pfeiffer, defender Dani Greenwood and star forward Savannah Hoekstra.
They'll be replaced from among varsity veterans Kasey Ames, Taryn Miller, Alaina Bates, Natalie Harrington, Chloe Scholtz, Cassie Fielding, and juniors Erica Casey, Abby Horton and Katie Van Etten.
"We try to take baby steps," Monrroy said, focusing first on the GSL, then district, regional and a state return. "The girls are committed to improving. Now that we won a state championship, we'll be a target for everyone."
But that's an envious place to be.