Beth Blank begins her second year as the Liberty Bell High School head volleyball coach searching her 20-some registered players for that perfect combination to complete the 2023 varsity volleyball roster of 12.
Practice ended the first week on Friday with a four-hour, 3-on-3 tournament session intended to clarify the picture of who was going to fill the 2023 varsity roster.
On Monday, Blank and assistants Stephanie Mitchell and Kimber Faulkner seemed to settle on the final list, as well as team captains. Still, we are left mostly to speculate on what we will be seeing come the season opener at Lake Roosevelt next Tuesday, so here’s our best guess.
An old adage in sports is that no matter how good one is, one can’t coach height, which is one thing this year’s Mountain Lions are lacking, with no players over 6 feet tall.
While height is a key component in volleyball, quickness, hustle and heart can go a long way, and that’s what this group of Mountain Lions is showing. They have a core group of five seniors and a large group of active, capable and driven underclass members.
Junior Rio Lott is basically in a class by herself this year, and is excited about the players coming up behind her. “I think we’re going to be pretty good this year,” she said. “We have a lot of young players that are really good, and we’re just going to get better through the year.”
Indeed, the projected varsity squad features the five seniors, one junior and six from the sophomore and freshman classes. Sophomore Layla Mortland continues her upward curve defensively on the net and has some help coming on the block from the likes of classmate Sophia Baraibar and freshman all-around player Wynter Woras.
Seniors Katelyn Evans and Bailey Thomson also have shown blocking ability on the net and should contribute to an improved overall defensive effort this year. Add freshman Kara McMillan, who spent most of her summer playing volleyball in the Chelan area and has shown well in early practice.
The mid- and backcourt defense also is improved from last year. Look for senior libero Pearl McArthur, sophomore Helaina Remsberg, Lott and freshmen Neve Kelly and Eve Schade to be diving around digging serves and kill shots, providing the Mountain Lions some offensive opportunities with acrobatic defense. Rejoining the Mountain Lions this year after spending her sophomore and junior years down the road in Pateros is Kaylee Mitchell.
Usually, the libero requires someone quick afoot, able to move laterally and horizontally, and able to smash a backcourt kill occasionally. It also doesn’t hurt for that position to be an excellent server, and able to read the opposing offense, accurately predicting and moving to the most likely target spot to defend against the attack. The libero is often the heart of the backcourt defense, diving and digging in an almost kamikaze-like, selfless and sacrificial mentality.
Finding that person can be a challenge, and McArthur is this year’s clear choice to be the backcourt general, with her years of experience and a command for the game.
Offensively, the Mountain Lions struggled a bit last year, and are working on that aspect in camp. On the service line, McArthur, Evans, Remsberg and Kierra Treise were notably consistent, yet not overpowering. Baraibar brings with her a fastball that, when it clears the net, can drop quickly and be effective, but consistency is an issue, and a target for this year. Creating service unpredictability will be a key for Liberty Bell in 2023.
Remsberg gained a reputation in her freshman campaign as a solid setter, and looks to provide some quality sets and assists this year. Front line players Evans, Baraibar, Thomson and Mortland will need to convert those sets into kill shots, working on timing and downward trajectory to be successful.
The youthful Mountain Lions were 4-12 on the campaign last year with a pair of wins over Bridgeport and Oroville in one of the more competitive leagues in Washington’s 2B classification. Local volleyball guru, observer and former Liberty Bell coach Greg Knott believes the pieces are in place for a Mountain Lion climb up several steps on the CW2B ladder this year.
The 2022 state third-place trophy winner Manson and Okanogan appear to be favorites in the league this year, again. Brewster is somewhat unknown, with some graduation losses and a coaching change, Marci Boesel stepping aside to make room for former Bear three-sport athlete Markie Miller to take over.
“If things fall into place, this group could finish as high as fourth in the regular season, which would be a huge step,” said Knott. “Lake Roosevelt and Tonasket are tough, but I think these kids are capable of surprising them.”
We’ll get an early peek as the opener is at Lake Roosevelt on Tuesday, Sept. 5. Omak will venture into the Lions’ Den on Sept. 13 for a rare Wednesday evening non-league tilt, followed by a road match at Oroville the following night, Sept. 14.
2023 Mountain Lion volleyball schedule
(Schedules subject to change)
• Sept. 5, @Lake Roosevelt
• Sept. 13, Omak @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Sept. 14, @ Oroville
• Sept. 19, Manson @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Sept. 21, Okanogan @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Sept. 23, @ Quincy Tournament
• Sept. 26, Bridgeport @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Sept. 28, Tonasket @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Sept. 30, Brewster @ Liberty Bell, 12:30 p.m.
• Oct. 3, Lake Roosevelt @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Oct. 5, @ Brewster, 6:30 p.m.
• Oct. 10, Oroville at Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Oct. 12, @ Manson, 6:30 p.m.
• Oct. 17, @ Okanogan, 6:30 p.m.
• Oct. 19, Bridgeport @ Liberty Bell, 6:30 p.m.
• Oct. 24, @ Tonasket, 6 p.m.
• District 6 tournament, TBA