Jennie Webber was surprised - and not in a good way - when she asked her team to work on hitting coverage last week, she got more blank stares than knowing nods.
"We spend the first few weeks trying to get caught up," Webber said. "We just need to get fundamentally sound and get kids some experience."
Days later, while Sequim's coach wondered aloud whether the team would have any hitters, junior Caitlin Pallai blasted a pair of hits over the net, giving Webber pause.
"We may have some hitters," she said with a grin.
For a team with several tall bodies, the Wolves are short on setters and players with club experience. That was hardly the case in recent years, but when longtime setters Kaitlin McDougal and Cara Burrowes graduated - who, along with four other seniors, accounted for 70 percent of the team's offense - opportunities opened up.
Webber's top three returnees include middle hitters Maddy Zbaraschuk and Megan Zumbuhl, and outside hitter Teyloure Ring.
Zbaraschuk, a sophomore, led the team with eight blocks and chipped in 44 kills while Zumbuhl, a senior, added 32 kills in 2007. Ring, also a senior, was one of Sequim's top servers, making good on 126 of 135 attempts (93.3 percent, a team best) and racking up 23 aces and 27 kills.
At 5-foot 10-inches tall, Pallai should be a help on the Wolves' front line; she
had six blocks and 13 kills in limited playing time for last year's varsity squad.
Ashley Bourns and Karin Hankins are the likely setters; Bourns missed most of last season with a knee injury and played in two varsity games while Hankins saw action in three varsity contests, going 7-for-7 on serves and collecting four kills.
Diana Earl, a defensive specialist, played in four varsity games in 2007, earning three digs and putting 10-of-11 serves in play.
Hitters Sarah Donahue and Brittany Bower figure to vie for varsity playing time as well.
"We are looking to move up more players as we progress in the season," Webber said.
Since 1977-78, the Wolves have been crowned league champs 10 times, four times the district champs and placed at state three times, but not since 2003, when they took eighth in the class 3A state tourney.
Last year, the Wolves dropped their opening two league games before reeling off six consecutive wins. Sequim qualified for districts but fell in a loser-out contest to Eatonville.
All four of Sequim's league losses in 2007 came against Port Townsend or North Mason. This year, Sequim opens and closes the season against North Mason's Bulldogs, the favorite to take the Olympic League 2A division.
North Mason boasts a pair of twin seniors - Danielle and Michelle Cook - who can dominate opponents with their hitting and height. Webber said Sequim has some height in Zbaraschuk, Pallai and others to negate that Bulldog attack.
"We've got to be able to block against North Mason," she said.
The Wolves also have a tough opponent in their second game, a nonleague contest against powerhouse 4A squad Central Kitsap of Silverdale.
On the Olympic League's 3A side, Sequim gains a strong new opponent in North Kitsap, who joined the league after dropping down to 3A status.
"Were going to have to play great defense," Webber said. "We're not going to have one player carry the team."
The Wolves have two tournaments on the schedule as well: the Mark Morris Tournament in Longview on Sept. 27 and Capital City Tournament in Olympia on Oct. 11.
Sequim High School volleyball
• 2007 record: 8-6 (8-4 in Olympic League); 0-1 in district playoffs
• Top returners: Maddy Zbaraschuk (M), Megan Zumbuhl (M/O), Teyloure Ring (O), Caitlin Pallai (M), Diana Earl (D), Kari Hankins (S)
• Top newcomers: Ashlee Bourns (S), Sarah Donahue (O), Brittany Bower (M/O)
• Outlook: Depth and experienced setters, two of Sequim's hallmarks in recent years, are in short supply this year. Fortunately, several junior varsity players got a taste of varsity last fall. Blocking should be improved in 2008 and the Wolves will need it, with North Mason on the schedule twice. If the newer, young players can gel with the team's three veterans, expect Sequim to improve upon their 8-6 mark and challenge the Bulldogs from Belfair for a league title.
• Key dates: Sept. 11 vs. North Mason, Sept. 25 vs. Port Townsend, Sept. 30 vs. North Kitsap, Oct. 30 at North Mason
O - outside hitter; M - middle hitter; S - setter; D - defense specialist
Class 2A preseason rankings
(Washington Volleyball Coaches Association)
1. Grandview, 2. Selah, 3. Archbishop Murphy, 4. Black Hills, 5. Ellensburg, 6. Burlington-Edison, 7. Lynden, 8. Tumwater, 9. West Valley (Spokane), 10. Fife