After a fifth place finish left them in the middle of the pack in the Lakes Conference last fall, the Storm Lake Tornadoes look to be a more well-rounded team capable of challenging for one of the top spots this season.
"This year's team passes much better than last year's," said head coach Kim Johnson. "With better passing we will be able to run a quicker offense. We also have hitters that are more consistent and hit with more power. They are a year older and have more confidence this year than last."
The Tornadoes graduated five seniors, but will be bringing back plenty of experience and talent led by Lakes-Conference and all-district honoree Jordan Bauer.
Bauer led the team in digs last season with 312 while also tallying 22 ace serves.
Storm Lake also brings back Katie Blum, an all-conference setter last fall after recording 158 assists and 144 digs. The junior will switch to outside hitter this year.
Cassie Meylor, another junior, should be one of Storm Lake's biggest finishers this fall after recording 22 aces, 101 kills, and 107 blocks in 2007.
Veteran outside hitter Courtney Lovetinsky looks to take on an important leadership role as one of the few seniors on the squad with plenty of game experience.
"The seniors have shown great leadership and some of the others have stepped up in the leadership role as well," said Johnson. "The team is vocal, understands the game, and is coachable enough to listen and make adjustments on the court. The attitude and work ethic of the entire team is awesome. The girls have worked very hard in the off-season and preseason and are excited."
Some new faces and some familiar one are expected to make a big difference on the Tornadoes' varsity squad this year including Nicole Martin and Megan Thompson at setter and libero.
Lori Phanechone will plug in at middle hitter while juniors Emily Deters and Brooke Gaffney will battle for spiking positions alongside sophomore Jackie Brungardt. Also, Katelyn Goodchild will fill in along the back row.
Coach Johnson is impressed with the progress her team has shown since last fall, especially on the offensive end.
"Our passing has improved considerably from last year," she said. "With better passing we will be able to generate more offense. We have a number off offensive threats, which will keep the other team guessing. We will also be running a quicker offense with different sets like quicks, shoots, and slides. In the past, we have practiced these skills, but the passes were not accurate enough to run them very often in games."
The Tornado defense looks to pick up right where it left off after a strong showing in 2007.
"Defensively we are much quicker than in the past," said Johnson. " We are reading the spikers and making adjustments. We are also getting to the ball that we didn't even get close to last year. We are much more scrappy and are sending very few free balls over the net."
Johnson is not only impressed with the girls' improvement in the technical aspect of the game, but also in their increased knowledge of the sport.
"One of the biggest improvements over last year is the girls are beginning to understand the game of volleyball more," she said. "As a result, they are reading the angle of the spiker and moving the block and backrow defense accordingly. In the past, we just went to our spot on the court and didn't move much."
Storm Lake has the pieces in place to be very competitive this year and Johnson believes they will as long as they play together within their roles.
"We will have to play as a team and support all of the members of the team," said the coach. "All of the players have different roles that will contribute to the success of our team. If the players can accept those roles and perform to the best of their ability while showing improvement throughout the year, we will have a very good chance of finishing in the top three in the conference."