New Bruins Coach Terry Thomas' Columbia High School varsity volleyball team takes on one of Class 2A's newest members in its 2003 opener this Thursday.
The Bruins (10-8-2 a year ago) travel to Hockinson for their first of 14 regular-season matches. This year's schedule also includes a tournament at Trout Lake on Sept. 20.
Thomas' first CHS squad includes one returning starter and three other letter-winners - all seniors now - from the team that finished third in the Trico Division a year ago and made a second consecutive district tournament appearance.
Setter Shelly Putnam has been a starter for two years. Outside hitter Emily Swick, middle blocker Jessica Mosbrucker and defensive specialist Krista Bakke also saw varsity playing time in 2002 on their way to winning their first volleyball letters.
Rounding out this year's varsity are juniors Corrine Blankenship, Meghan Harvey, Abby Zuck, Anna Zuck, Whitney Shelley and Desirae Lexa, and sophomores Becky Clary and Rainee Rohrbacher.
The junior varsity, coached by student teacher and CHS alumnus Amy Carlock, also has 12 players on its roster: a group that comprises four sophomores and eight freshmen.
All stand to benefit from Thomas's experience as a player and coach.
Now in his 29th year of coaching volleyball, the Hood River resident was hired last June by Athletic Director Howard Kreps to take over the CHS program. Thomas previously served as head coach for two seasons (2001 and 2002) at Blue Mountain Community College in Pendleton, Ore.
His coaching resumé also includes stints at San Jose (Calif.) Christian College and Warner Pacific College in Portland, Ore., and touring Australia with a Northwest Volleyball Camp all-star team. During his coaching career, Thomas has earned several coach of the year awards.
As a college student, he played two seasons at San Jose City College as a setter and defensive specialist, then transferred to Portland State University and played two years for PSU's men's club.
Thomas, who holds a degree in physical education, is a coach who emphasizes conditioning, communication and defensive play. His favorite position on the court, he said, is the libero (pronounced lee-bear-o), which is new to Washington state high school volleyball.
Under Thomas' scheme, the libero, a designated defensive specialist, will play a liberal role in the Columbia High attack.
Because rally scoring - in which every serve leads to a point - will be used statewide this season, the libero will give coaches the line-up flexibility to make routine defensive substitutions.
"The signature elements of all the teams I've coached is that they've been loud and scrappy," Thomas said. "Talking on the court is required because it helps prevent a lot of mistakes."
He added: "It's also important to me that this team plays in a way that leaves the other team and the fans in the stands respecting us because we played hard."
Through two weeks of practice, the new Bruins Coach said he's pleased with the strides the players are making on offense and defense.
Offensively, he said, he's starting to see the emergence of hitters. "My take on hitting is, it takes a lot of work to learn to hit and direct a shot through all kinds of obstacles. But it's coming along."
Defensively, he's been impressed by the Bruins' willingness to go after the ball, under control, before it finds the floor.
"Our attitude has to be: no way is that ball going down in my area of the court," he said. "By the time we hit the midway point of the season, I think you're going to hear people talking about what great poise, heart and defensive intensity these girls have."
The Bruins got their first taste of competition Tuesday, taking part in a jamboree at Stevenson.
Thomas said he planned to use the jamboree as an opportunity to design a line-up that clicks and find out what the Bruins need to work on before Thursday's match.
"The girls have made huge progress since day one," he noted. "Not only are we polishing the rough edges, we're knocking off some rust too."
In the process, the Bruins are building a team - "because this game is team-oriented," Thomas said - as well as honing skills.
"Everybody on this team will have a role, even if it's just talking things up from a seat on the bench," Thomas said. "To me, that's important too, because it adds value to what the team is trying to accomplish on the court."