A promising future for Bremerton volleyball

BHS’ Carly Erickson (11) goes up for a block during the Lady Knights’ 3-0 loss to North Kitsap at home Tuesday. It was the last match of the season for BHS. - Wesley Remmer/staff photo
BHS’ Carly Erickson (11) goes up for a block during the Lady Knights’ 3-0 loss to North Kitsap at home Tuesday. It was the last match of the season for BHS.
— image credit: Wesley Remmer/staff photo

It ended just like it began, with a 3-0 loss to a quality opponent.

But sandwiched between setbacks to Central Kitsap to open the season and North Kitsap to close, the Bremerton girls volleyball team secured four league wins, its highest output since 2006.

The Lady Knights also welcomed a new coach, Beth Donnelly, who compared her first season to a roller coaster ride, saying the team showed marked improvement over the course of the year, yet there’s work left to do.

“I can’t say it consistently went up — we definitely had our ups and our downs — but overall, our seniors adjusted real well and our sophomores just kind of fell in behind them,” Donnelly said, tracing the team’s progress from Day 1 to Tuesday’s season finale, a 3-0 (25-16, 25-21, 25-10) loss to the state’s third-ranked team in undefeated NK (14-0 overall, 11-0 league).

Despite three consecutive losses to close the season, the Lady Knights (4-10, 4-7) of 2009 were more competitive — and noticeably better — than BHS teams of recent years.

They put together a string of four wins in five matches between the last week of September and mid-October, the highlight being a decisive victory over North Mason, a team the senior class had never beat.

“I think that was where it clicked to them like, ‘We’re actually an OK team. We know how to play, we just all have to do it at the same time,’” Donnelly said. “I think that was a real good positive turning point for us, but it still was a roller coaster ride all season long.”

The players’ rotations improved, as did their ball control, overall understanding of the game — which strategies to employ and when — and confidence level.

Players such as Penny Bell, a senior who rode the bench for the better part of 2008, improved both technically and mentally. And after six losses to open the season, the team learned to trust each other — and themselves.

“I think that was the hardest part, just to convince them that it’s got to start somewhere and why not start now?” Donnelly said. “If I’m teaching them how to learn the game, then I guess I’m doing a good job. And that’s all that matters.”

The team loses four seniors, including Bell and the 6-foot Arianna Jones, who Donnelly dubbed a “heavy hitter.” But with only one junior, the Lady Knights have a nucleus of sophomores who figure to improve over the next two seasons.

The fate of the program, however, could rest on the shoulders of junior varsity players who will move to varsity next season. Expect a learning curve in that capacity, Donnelly said, but don’t count the team out.

“We have some big shoes to fill, and we need some girls from the junior varsity to step up and fill them,” Donnelly said. “As of right now, we need a lot of work. I think we can do it.”

Donnelly expects Haley Lillybridge to fill the void at outside hitter with the departure of Bell and Jones. But there also will be competition at each position, no roster spots being set in stone.

“We might have to move some people around, too — play them at other positions,” Donnelly said.

When Donnelly begins her second year, she hopes to see a better turnout at tryouts. Numbers, she said, are important because they give the program stability, allowing players to develop and log game action at JV, moving to varsity when the time is right.

With a shallow pool of talent from which to draw, in contrast, coaches are handcuffed in terms of tinkering the roster and experimenting with different rotations.

“If we can get the numbers, if we can get more kids out, that’s going to be the biggest thing — if we can get people we can actually choose from instead of settle with,” Donnelly said.

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