PHIL HAWKINS - Returning North Marion all-conference senior Kendall John will be counted on for her leadership this season.
Heading into her second year at the helm of the North Marion volleyball program, head coach Alexa Powell wants her players to know she’s here to stay.
The Huskies’ sixth coach in the past nine years, Powell understands that the coaching carousel has made for an unstable culture within the program that she wants to change.
“(The players) haven’t had a chance to build a lot of trust because the coaches have come and go,” she said. “They’ve never had the opportunity to have trust in each other or a coach, and they’ve never felt they’ve needed to because, ‘Why would we buy into this coach if they’re just going to leave us anyway?’”
But with the Huskies seeing a spike in interest in the program, including 16 sophomores spread across the varsity team and multiple junior varsity teams, the future of the team is bright, and Powell plans to still be here when those sophomores are seniors.
“We are here together, we are buying into this together and I, as your coach, am not going to leave you,” Powell said. “I think is a really good way to hopefully get that attitude, that hard work, trust and commitment going.”
North Marion enters this season in a bit of a transitional year. The Huskies are coming off their best season in years, tying the 2007 and 2008 teams for the most victories in a season (nine) in the past decade, while qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 2011.
Part of the success stemmed from a senior-laden roster that lost eight players to graduation last year, including three who earned all-conference honors. But those losses opened up new roster positions at the varsity level, giving a new generation of athletes the opportunity to make their mark for the Huskies.
Leading the team is setter Kendall John, an all-conference honoree last year and the team’s lone returning senior with varsity experience.
“Her volleyball experience and volleyball knowledge is going to be hugely helpful as far as leading by example, having girls come in and see what it’s like to be a great runner of the court, making those tough plays, things like that,” Powell said.
John teams with fellow senior Bianca Valenzuela, who makes her varsity debut this year after spending last season at the JV level. Powell praised Valenzuela’s work ethic and attitude, citing her as an example to the younger players on the effort and determination to stay with the program and the work it takes to get to the varsity level. Together, they give the Huskies solid leadership to back up Powell.
“Kendall has the skill and experience, Bianca has the sportsmanship and the attitude, so together as seniors, they each take one half of what I’d expect,” Powell said.
Other returners include Hannah Kinniburgh, an all-conference middle blocker, and fellow juniors Ally Umbenhower and Lindy Wing.
“I’m going to depend on them a lot to bring that experience of the varsity level and know what to expect at a higher level of play and show the younger girls how they need to play at that level,” Powell said.
The rest of the team, like Valenzuela, is new to the varsity level, which gives Powell enthusiasm to see what they can do, not just this year but in the seasons to come.
“I think this year will be a huge learning experience for a lot of us,” Powell said. “Learning to fight, learning to overcome.”
Powell would like to see the team return for another play-in game at the end of the season, but knows a lot of it depends on how the rest of the Oregon West Conference unfolds and how much her team rises to the challenge in the coming months.
“It’s always great to make that playoff spot,” Powell said. “I think it is totally possible for us to finish in those top three spots, but it just comes down to doing what we need to do. Winning those games, overcoming those challenges and working as a team.”
The Huskies were scheduled to open the season Monday at The Dalles, followed by its home opener against Seaside on Tuesday. North Marion finishes the week with a trip to Scappoose High School on Thursday for a double header against the hosting Indians and the Molalla Indians.