Neighboring St. John Bosco Academy — which used to be called Summit Academy — doesn’t have a volleyball team of its own this year, so Prairie’s team added four neighbor girls to a big group of returners from last year’s state-qualified squad.
The Pirates graduated most of the players who carried most of the varsity playing time, but retained four varsity players and essentially all of the juniors who played JV. Adding in the newcomers, PHS head coach Julie Schumacher has 29 out – enough for a full “C” team schedule.
“Wow, that’s a big group,” Schumacher said. “Marlene [Forsmann] will do both C and JV. For practice, we’ll keep the JV and C together, and they’ll have their own games so we can get as much playing time for as many players as possible.”
Schumacher told the Free Press she’s glad for the strong turnout, even though it made for tough decisions when the team split into squads earlier this month.
Which was the hardest of those decisions? How many to carry on varsity.
“There’s a lot of girls on JV vying for varsity spots who, any other year, they’d be playing varsity,” she said. “We have a lot of girls who played JV last year who stuck with it, and now they’re varsity. I didn’t have a lot of holes to fill...but when I started looking at positions, at middle, I only had two. One was injured this summer.”
Ellea Uhlenkott had rolled her ankle during a summer event, Schumacher said, “10 days before a basketball trip to Italy she had been raising money for for two years.”
“So she’s still battling back and very close to being full-time,” she said. “[Middle] Sidney Bruegeman, this is her first year on varsity. So Trinity Martinez is varsity as a sophomore. She’s tall, but she wasn’t always. She has been an outside hitter, but over the summer it was like, ‘Wow.’ ... I needed that one more middle to start the season on varsity. So I told her, ‘You’re the person – it’s game on.’”
Four who played varsity last year return: three to familiar roles, and one as an ace in a new role.
Junior Madison Shears lettered as a sophomore middle last year, “even though she’s about the shortest girl on the team, because she jumps so well,” Schumacher said. “We haven’t decided her position yet, but she’ll play all the way around.”
Junior libero Sierra McWilliams stepped into a new role last year, “but she’s taken that on and made it her own,” Schumacher said.
Junior setter Hope Schwartz showed newfound strength during the summer.
“She did the dusk-till-dawn tournament, and during that tournament, they could just go all out, no pressure, not worrying about it being a district or a state spot,” Schumacher said. “And she just went all-out, hitting right side.”
Senior setter Ashton Landers returns with “solid setter skills, and she’ll be in that spot,” she said.
Erin Chmelik, who played for Summit last fall, figures in as a hitter.
“I hadn’t seen many of her games,” Schumacher said. “The more I’ve watched her in practice, the more I’ve thought she has hitting potential.”
By beating Genesee in district tournament play, Prairie reached the 1AD1 state tournament without a play-in game. Genesee won the district’s consolation seed, won two play-ins, and also went to state; undefeated Whitepine League champion Troy won the district and state titles. Troy and Genesee remain the league’s top teams, and Lapwai – having beaten the Pirates in a late-season match last fall – pencils as a contender.