This prep volleyball season will feature a five-team race to the top in the Greater Columbia 1B League.
The conference adds Lyle/Wishram to the mix in 2010, giving it another team to compete for the Yakima Valley District's single WIAA Class 1B tournament berth. (Lyle/Wishram was in Class 2B prior to the last WIAA reclassifications, which take effect this fall.)
Last fall at district, Trout Lake/Glenwood and Klickitat slugged it out with Bickleton and Sunnyside Christian for the two state tourney berths available to the GCB. (The Valley shares a second state berth with the North Central District, on an alternating year basis.)
TLG and Klickitat ultimately prevailed, with TLG qualifying for its first 1B state tournament and Klickitat making the final field of 16 for the fourth year in a row.
Among the league's players to watch in 2010 are reigning GCB player of the year Samantha Brewer of Klickitat, TLG's Liz Vogt, Karlee Roth of Lyle/Wishram and Katelynn Clinton of Bickelton, all seniors.
League play begins the last full week of September and concludes on the last Tuesday in October. The Yakima Valley District tournament will follow on Nov. 6.
Following are capsulized looks at three of the GCB's five teams.
The Vandals have appeared in three consecutive state tournaments under head coach Jaecee Hoctor, and have taken away a trophy each time.
Last season Klickitat placed fourth at state (its best finish in a state tourney since 2002) with a lineup that included five returning starters and posted a 17-3 win-loss record.
This season Klickitat returns four starters and nine players overall with varsity experience. Its total turnout is 15.
The Vandals' key returning players are Samantha Brewer, a middle hitter and blocker who can dominate a match at the net; sophomore setter and 2009 all-GCB choice Ashley Meeks, junior outside hitter Martisha Woodall, and sophomore outside hitter Lara Parsons.
Noted Hoctor, "We have a group of girls that really get along great. And our leadership is really positive. We shouldn't have to deal with personality conflicts; we'll be able to just put our effort into improving our skills as a team."
Hoctor said Trout Lake/Glenwood "is the team for us to beat," given its similarities to Klickitat.
"They lost a couple seniors who were leaders just like we did," Hoctor said of TLG. "A team that could surprise me is Bickleton. They have some young players, along with Katelynn (Clinton), who could be good. And they always play with a lot of heart."
Which is something Hoctor expects from her players whenever they take the court.
"I'll know we've had a successful season if my girls and I feel like we gave it our all," she said, and added, "I always tell my girls to leave it all on the court and play each game like it's your last."
With a roster that features five returning players with varsity experience, the Cougars are looking to make some noise in their first season as a 1B team.
Lyle/Wishram is led by lone senior and team captain Karlee Roth, now in her third year as a varsity player. According to Cougars Coach Lori Smith, Roth possesses "a wide variety of skills that will benefit the team. She is a great server, back row player and setter."
The Cougars' primary setter--and one of their leaders in serving percentage--will be junior and second-year varsity performer Brianna Brock.
Smith is hoping Roth and Brock send a lot of those sets to junior hitter/blocker and second-year starter Taylor Freemantle and freshman hitter/blocker Kirstin Hylton, the Cougars' tallest player.
"The girls are starting the year out with a new and improved attitude," Smith said. "They're very excited about the year and our chances in the 1B league."
And, though Lyle/Wishram is joining a different conference, its opponents will be teams Smith and her older players have been accustomed to playing.
"The nice thing about playing in the 1B league is that I know all the coaches and most of the players, so I know what we are going to face on game night," Smith noted.
And though the competition for post-season positioning will be strong, Smith believes Lyle/Wishram has the potential to finish regular-season play at the top of the standings.
"It all depends on how hard the girls want to work, and how quickly the younger girls get up to speed on varsity-level playing," Smith said.
TLG Mustang Eagles
The Mustang Eagles are primed to make another run to the 1B state tournament in the Yakima SunDome.
Last year Trout Lake and Glenwood claimed the Yakima Valley District championship and qualified for their first 1B tourney, at which they won their opening-round match before falling a victory short of reaching the trophy round. (They finished with a 13-5 record overall.)
This season head coach Angie Cox would like to see the TLG girls take their game to that next round of tournament play.
They're pinning their hopes of a return engagement on the play and leadership of middle blocker/hitter Liz Vogt, an All-GCB selection the last two seasons, senior outside hitter Veronica Glenn and sophomore setter Chelsea Cox, who earned All-GCB honors as a rookie.
Coach Cox, now in her third season, also is counting on seniors Krissy Yarnell and Tasha Johnson, and sophomores Dakota Jones and Val Vogt to be consistent contributors throughout the 2010 campaign.