Changes at the top: Six Region 7 volleyball teams open 2018 with new head coaches
Spilt between a pair of area tournaments, 11 of the 12 Region 7 volleyball teams opened their 2018 campaigns on Saturday, Aug. 25.
Killdeer High School hosted the Killdeer Mountain Volleyball Tournament, and was joined by Hettinger-Scranton, Beach, Heart River, Mott-Regent and Glen Ullin-Hebron while Dickinson Trinity, Beulah, Richardton-Taylor and New England traveled to Hazen to compete in the Coal Country Invitational.
Bowman County, the lone absent party from either tournament, began its season on Tuesday on the road at Baker (S.D.).
The Titans began its quest for a second consecutive Region 7 title with a strong showing in Hazen, taking first place in the gold division. Dickinson Trinity is coming off a season where it was undefeated in region play and finished seventh at state.
It remains to be seen which teams will challenge the Titans for region supremacy. What is known is that many of the coaches in charge of squads trying to knock them off of their throne will be different this season.
Half of the teams that make up the region are under new leadership, four of which competed in the Region 7 Tournament in 2017.
Last year, Hazen marched into the regional tournament as the No. 2 seed behind All-Region player Elise Hintz, Senior Athlete of the Year Raquel Doll and head coach Linette Irwin. This year, Allison Smith will be on the sidelines leading a Bison team that features senior outside hitter Tia Bornemann as the only returner with substantive varsity experience.
Despite losing 10 players due to graduation, Smith believes success may come with how her squad is structured.
"I really think that we are very balanced and that is going to be our strength," Smith said. "I don't think that there's one particular person that really stands out, and I think that's going to our strength as a whole. We are just going to be a very balanced team and we can look to whoever is having a good day in any particular match."
Smith, a 2007 Hazen graduate, played collegiately at the University of Mary before spending five years as the Wilton High head volleyball coach. Leaving Wilton after the 2016 season, Smith spent a year out of coaching before the opportunity at her alma mater became available.
"I didn't do any coaching last year and I really missed it," Smith said. "So when the position opened up, I knew for sure that I definitely wanted to jump at it and get back into it."
Other new head coaches include Phil Weldele at Glen Ullin-Hebron, Kayleen Meckle at Mott-Regent, Gabbi Hanson and Kay Moody are the new women at the helm in New England and Emily Gran takes over at Richardton-Taylor after former coach Tessa Sian accepted the same position at Heart River in the spring.
The Cougars are without graduates Bailey Olson and Ashlyn Privatsky, who each earned All-Region recognition. Taking over a team that finished as the Region 7 Tournament runner-up, Sian has been pleased with how the transition has gone since the beginning of fall practice.
"The girls were able to adjust to my philosophies and I've been able to see the full-on potential of all of the girls, which is really exciting," Sian said. "Now that we've gotten a couple of weeks under our belt, I have an idea of where we're at skill level-wise, which is exciting because I can see where we can improve and see what level of volleyball we can actually play. I think it's a high level."
On the other side of the spectrum, Killdeer's Allison Sampsel is one of the returning volleyball coaches in the area.
With the help of All-Region players Sydney Anderson and Elissa Steffan, the Cowboys finished last season with the region's third-best overall record at 23-12, including a 13-6 mark in region play. However, they were ousted by the Cougars in the tournament quarterfinals.
While Anderson is beginning her freshman season at Bismarck State College, Steffan will be back in the fold in her senior season.
"We are trying to look at this year as a clean slate," Sampsel said. "We did graduate five seniors who all were starters or played heavily last season, so we have some have big roles to fill, but the girls coming back and coming up have done an awesome job the first few weeks of practice. I think it's going to be a good season for us."