Spikers ready for life without Stuart

(L-R) Seniors Becky Gottlieb, Kelcey Dunaway and junior Janna Russell work on a serving drill at practice Monday. The Bainbridge volleyball team tries for a sixth straight trip to state when they open their season at home Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. against North Kitsap. - Brad Camp/Staff Photo
(L-R) Seniors Becky Gottlieb, Kelcey Dunaway and junior Janna Russell work on a serving drill at practice Monday. The Bainbridge volleyball team tries for a sixth straight trip to state when they open their season at home Sept. 4 at 7 p.m. against North Kitsap.
— image credit: Brad Camp/Staff Photo

Spartans want to make their sixth straight trip to state happen.

For the past three years, Kelcey Dunaway has been part of some talented teams and played with some of the best players in recent memory at Bainbridge.

This year, the senior and future member of the University of Washington volleyball team takes her place in the spotlight – but she’s not worried about replacing all-star Hannah Stuart.

“I don’t think I do (feel the pressure),” she said. “We’re going to miss her a lot and all the other seniors, but I think this is definitely going to be a group effort.”

“I know the other seniors and I aren’t going to put the pressure on us to carry the team. Everyone is ready to contribute.”

Instead, Dunaway and the rest of the team are more concerned with making another trip to the postseason for the 2007 season.

“We know we have to get to state,” she said. “We’d be letting ourselves down if we didn’t.”

Last season, the Spartans started slow, but they made it five consecutive trips to the state tournament, finishing with a 19-7 record and a fourth-place trophy, their second in four years.

Head coach Julie Miller said her expectations of them changed quite a bit over the season.

“At times I thought, yes (they would make it) and at times I thought we underachieved,” she said. “But mostly, we did a really good job and we definitely ended strong, which was awesome.”

At the tournament in Kennewick, they finished fourth with victories over two ranked teams in Sumner and Enumclaw and old Olympic League rival Olympic.

They lost four starters and veteran players in Lindsay Bratonia, Ally Post, Marijke Schwarz-Smith and Stuart.

All four were All-Metro selections while Stuart was named the Metro League co-MVP and was also named the Associated Press 3A MVP and named to the first team as well, the first time that’s happened in school history.

Miller is well aware of what they lose as all four move on to college, with Stuart taking her game to the Division I level at George Washington University.

“With Hannah (gone) we lose a lot of ball control, we lose a really good server, a real consistent outside hitter and leader,” she said. “Hannah was on (the team) for four years. Marijke was on for three.”

Still, Miller feels the players “are up for the challenge” to replace the four.

Eight players return with one year or more of varsity experience, with Dunaway, who will play at the middle blocker position, leading the way.

Dunaway, a co-captain and two-time All-Metro selection, is ready for the season to get going.

“I think we have the best group of not only talented people but people who are driven and really want (to succeed),” she said. “I think we’re going to do well.”

Miller said that Dunaway is ready to lead the way, but she’ll have a one-on-one conversation about the upcoming season and how she’ll handle replacing Stuart.

“We’ll have that talk,” she said. “We have a younger group and the kids coming in are inexperienced.

“We’re sort of rebuilding, I would say. Losing four starters is a lot.”

Also back for another go is senior defensive specialist/libero and co-captain Hillary Grant, senior outside hitter/defensive specialist Becky Gottlieb, senior outside hitter Daron Vandelur, senior outside hitter Annie Alshiemer, senior setter Chelsea Bell, junior outside hitter Dominique Atherley and junior setter Heather Schnieder.

“A lot of kids put in a lot of time over the summer to work really hard and improve because they knew we were going to have to (replace four starters),” Miller said. “They’ve all either worked on their fitness or their volleyball game quite a bit.”

Dunaway thinks that Grant will rise to the next level this year.

“Hillary’s going to blow some minds,” she said. “She’s so good and she’s gotten better every year. She’s the best libero we can ask for.”

Miller felt that Alshiemer and Bell have also shown improvement from last season.

Rounding out the team are four new players in junior outside hitter Emily Donohue, junior rightside/middle hitter Olivia Luke, junior middle hitter Janna Russell and sophomore setter Camille Moore.

Miller said that Russell will get to start.

“She brings that height factor,” she said.

Another advantage for the Spartans is their competitive nature, which fits in with Miller’s mindset of not giving up on balls in play.

“I think this is one of the most competitive groups across the board,” Miller said. “They want to win every drill, which is refreshing, ‘cause we’ve had that in the past but not everyone did it.

“It’s a bunch of people willing to go all out.”

Miller also feels that Bainbridge will be strong defensively and at serving.

She also feels they have enough hitters that will contribute to a solid offense.

They’ll need to work on their passing and they still don’t have a setter to fill in for Post, as Bell, Schneider and Moore are all in competition for the job.

Miller will also work on getting others to not let Dunaway do all the scoring.

“I had talked to a couple of the kids saying that I expect them to get more involved in the offense,” she said. “Kelcey can only do so much. She knows she’s a middle and that if we can’t pass to the setter, then we can’t run Kelcey.

“Everyone has to play their part and the setters have to give the ball to Kelcey,” Miller continued. “She’s going to be our big gun, but she won’t be the only one, just like Hannah wasn’t last year.

“Everyone wants to contribute, which is really nice. Nobody’s satisfied with just being here. Everybody wants to contribute.”

They’ll have to contribute to hang with a competitve Metro League as Bishop Blanchet, last year’s state champ, returns all but two players.

Holy Names, Seattle Prep and Eastside Catholic are all improved as well.

If the Spartans make it to districts, they’ll also have to face teams like Issaquah, Mt. Si and Newport to get to state.

With only four berths, the challenge is there, but Miller feels they can hang with anyone – in due time.

“I think we can do it but it’s so far down the road that right now, we just really don’t want to think about that,” she said. “We just want to gel as a team, grow as a team and get better as a team and as individuals.

“Once we get to the post-season and hopefully we can peak (at the right time) and get back there, because it would be another road trip.

Dunaway said they establish a goal to get to state every year, but they won’t get too ahead of themselves.

“They know we’re just taking it game by game,” she said of working with the new girls. “They know not to worry about the postseason when we haven’t gotten to our first game.”

Bainbridge opens the season Sept. 4 when they host arch-rival North Kitsap at 7 p.m.

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