The Lemoore volleyball team rebounded from their first losing season in more than a decade in 2015 by going 18-11 overall in 2016, making it back to the Central Section Div. II playoffs.
Now, the Tigers are looking to make the next step at getting back in contention for West Yosemite League and Central Section titles.
Lemoore head coach Rachel Taylor said the team is primed to make another jump, with the Tigers returning nine seniors and another four juniors that have all played together for years.
“It’s an older squad this year and we’re going to be about 13 deep,” Taylor said. “They’ve all played together for a while so it’s looking like they’re going to have a really good year.”
Lemoore returns a big core of its team that made it to the quarterfinals of the Div. II playoffs, including five of the team’s top six kill leaders, include the top three in Annmarie Schalde (136 kills), Shelby Saporetti (111 kills) and Kele Weedman (107 kills).
On defense, the Tigers also return libero Leah Rodrigues, a four-year varsity player who was second on the team in aces (32) and first in digs (300). As a junior, Rodrigues was a second team All-WYL selection after being first team All-WYL previously. Weedman was second on the team in digs (96) and Kylee Young was third (95).
At the net, Aiyana Moore was second in blocks (21).
While Lemoore went 7-5 in the WYL last season, the Tigers were right there with the league’s top teams.
The Tigers handed WYL champion Redwood a loss in a nonleague tournament and also went 2-1 against WYL runner-up Hanford West, splitting its two league games then sweeping them in a tournament match.
With Lemoore returning its big core, Taylor would like to have the Tigers add to their championship banner in the gym.
“When we look up at the banner the last thing on there was when we made the Valley final in 2012,” Taylor said. “That’s a big motivator. I told the girls it’s time we add at least a league title to that and see what happens from there.”
While Taylor said this year’s team is different than that team in 2012 that won a share of the WYL title and lost to El Diamante in the final, she could see the team making a deeper playoff run.
“We don’t have the same power, but we have smart players,” Taylor said. “If we can pass the ball a little better and come along and play like I know we can, we’ll do alright. They all want to win. They all do what they need to do to win.”
Here’s a quick look at other local volleyball teams going into the season:
Hanford West: The Huskies had their best season and postseason in school history in 2016. The team won a school record 24 matches as well as won a postseason match for the first time in school history, advancing to the Div. IV semifinals.
Now, Hanford West will look to continue momentum that has been building over the past few years.
The Huskies lose four key players in that run including the Sentinel’s 2015 co-Player of the Year Michaela Dasch, setter Mariah Hernandez, libero/setter Halle Harger and middle blocker Kirsten Scheidt to graduation.
Hanford West does however return its top two kill leaders in Madison Sousa, the Sentinel’s 2016 co-Player of the Year and Shelby Perez. Sousa had a team-best 257 kills while being second on the team in digs (170) while Perez had 182 kills. Perez was also the team leader in aces (74).
Hanford: The Bullpups are coming off a season where they went 5-18 overall and 2-10 in the West Yosemite League and graduated six seniors.
Senior setter Davynn Meek, who was a first team All-West Yosemite League selection returns.
Hanford hasn’t had a winning season since 2008, when Hanford won its last WYL title and was runner-up in its division in the Central Section playoffs, advancing to the Southern California Regionals.
Since then, Hanford has gone a combined 72-166 overall and 21-75 in the WYL.
Sierra Pacific: The Golden Bears went 10-17 in 2016, finishing in the middle of the pack in the East Sequoia League.
Sierra Pacific lost its kill and ace leader (Lilly Goins, 115 kills, 31 aces) to graduation but return middle hitter Hailey Leslie (88 kills, 25 aces, 23 digs 16 blocks).
Also returning as a senior is Haley Bettencourt at setter (27 aces), who was a captain as a junior.
Corcoran: Panthers looking to improve after finishing near bottom of the East Sequoia League standings.
Corcoran went 7-18 overall and failed to make the postseason.
Kings Christian: Crusaders had a solid 2016 season going 16-9-1 overall and advancing to the Central Section Div. V semifinals, losing to Frazier Mountain 25-18, 25-11, 21-25, 25-12.
Avenal: The Bucs went 5-22-1 in 2016 and lose kill leader Alexis Ayala (316 kills) to graduation. Ana Diaz, who was second on the team in kills (88), returns.