Tigers look for balance on volleyball court

Gillett must replace large senior class

Greg Bates, Times Herald Correspondent

The Gillett volleyball team had a difficult 2012 season, finishing 8-17-1 overall and 7-9 in the Marinette and Oconto Conference.

Things don’t get any easier this year after losing a solid group of seniors.

“When you lose nine girls, four of them being starters, it really puts you in a tough place,” Tigers head coach Dawn Nelson said. “You have to rely on the younger kids to pick up. There were a lot of losses last year that we know we could have pulled out, and I think those girls will work that much harder to come away with a win.”

Among the seniors gone are Kelsey Hischke (first team all-conference) and Melissa Meunier (all-conference honorable mention).

“They were in very important positions of libero and setter, so some big shoes to fill there,” Nelson said.

Also graduating were Kathryn DeJung, Kayla Sorlie, Missy Peterson, Alexandria Schmitz, Jessica Wiese, Abby Walker and Cassandra Reed. This year’s team will have to rely on its four seniors — Brianna Lemirande, Kara Brennan, Marissa Sherman and Lisa Schmidt.

“They have been extremely devoted to the program,” Nelson said.

Lemirande (112 kills and 44 blocks) and Brennan (38 digs and 28 aces) both are entering their third season as starters. They are each only 5-foot-9, but pack a lot of punch and can get off the floor.

“Kara and Brianna have really led this team through the summer,” Nelson said. “They also brought a lot of leadership last year to the program. They’re very vocal leaders on the court and the ability they have is irreplaceable.”

Nelson will rely on Lemirande and Brennen, who both play in the middle, as leaders to the younger players on and off the court.

“It helps so much to have those vocal leaders who are willing to help those younger kids along, and with them being starters as sophomores they know what it’s like to jump into the game at a young age,” Nelson said. “I think that is helpful to have those girls with that experience so they know how to treat those younger kids and encourage them so they don’t get down on themselves.”

Nelson is also looking for junior strong side player Taylor Kohls to step up this season, as well as sophomore setter/outside hitter Jessica Anderson. Both girls got some playing time on varsity a year ago. Nelson might also bring up some freshmen who could help out the program.

Nelson likes the balance of her team this season.

“You think our biggest advantage that we have is that we’re not going to rely solely on one go-to player,” Nelson said. “We have four girls that can really hammer the ball right now and I think that having a balanced attack is going to help us. There’s a lot of schools that we play against that we hope to get that one player in the back row and take it to the team and build a nice lead while we can take advantage, and I don’t think teams will be able to do that against us.”

The Tigers will have a small lineup this season since their tallest player will only be 5-10. Nelson wants to give her back row players a lot of opportunities since it might be tough to battle teams at the net.

“We’ve got some girls that can attack from the back row and if we’re struggling from the front it’s nice to have that other option,” Nelson said.

The majority of the Tigers varsity players competed in a summer volleyball league and faced some quality competition vs. teams such as Bonduel, Wabeno, Suring and Coleman. Nelson believes that experience will be critical entering the season.

Last year, Gillett finished fifth in conference, while Coleman went 11-0 and won the title. Coleman should be tough again this season with a lot of its key members returning.

“In our conference, I think anyone can beat anyone on any given day,” Nelson said. “I don’t know who’s going to finish where, but I want to be in that top three.”

The Tigers open the season Thursday in a triangular at Suring and then head to Crandon Sept. 3. Nelson said the early-season matches could dictate how the season goes for her team.

“Usually that first match is a huge determination on how things are going to play out for us,” Nelson said. “Niagara and Suring have been our first two competitors the last couple years and it’s good competition right off the bat. It’s not like we’re going to go in there expecting to walk all over people. You’ve really got to go in and fight for it and you never know who’s going to come out on top with those three teams.”