By Scott Schlaufman
When Valley City High School volleyball coach Katy Van Dyke entered the season, she set out to change things up.
From the general formula of practice to the way the team runs its 6-2 rotation, the Hi-Liners are building on familiar skills and adding a second defense to its repertoire.
"There's a lot more to what we've done in the past that we're going to do this year," Van Dyke said.
The Hi-Liners open the season today and Saturday with six matches at the Bismarck High/Bismarck Century Crossover tournament in Bismarck.
The Hi-Liners play Mandan at 3 p.m, followed by Minot and Turtle Mountain Community High School later the day. Saturday they play Williston, Jamestown and Bismarck St. Mary's.
The team loses seven seniors from last year, but has six seniors stepping up into leadership roles, with several juniors and sophomores also playing key roles.
The team is led by seniors Mariah Olstad and Tiffany Justesen, who will work in utility roles around the court for the team.
The team also has seniors at positions around the court, including middle hitter Tonya Van Dyke, outside hitter Jasmine Stevens, and Cassidy Wendler, who will play as libero. Senior setter Kara Kohler will split the setter position with junior Jessica Denholm.
The only spot without a senior vying for significant playing time is on the right side, which will be filled by sophomore Clarissa Olson and junior Madison Taylor.
Sisters Dierra and Danica Diegel will also spend time at the outside and middle hitter positions and sophomore Sam Coit will be the team's third setter, should the need arise.
Though the team is larger than previous VCHS teams, Van Dyke said they'll still be smaller than many other teams in the Eastern Dakota Conference.
"When you put us up against some other teams who have 5'11", 6-foot as their average height, that's tough for us," she said. "I keep telling the girls if we don't learn how to do defense and do it well, we're going to have a hard time."
It was a point echoed in recent scrimmages with Jamestown and other teams from the western side of the state, who brought the ball hard at the Hi-Liners.
That said, Van Dyke believes her team has the proper chemistry for the court with plenty of players that get along well.
The team's goal is to improve on last year, when the girls finished ninth in the EDC, losing in five matches in the conference tournament play-in game.
"I'm hoping we fall into the middle of the EDC and work ourselves up instead of the bottom of the EDC and work ourselves up," Van Dyke said.
She believes the team will get a good test during its first EDC match Sept. 4 when the team plays a home match with Fargo Shanley.
"They'll be one of those middle teams, so if we can hang with them and beat them, that'd be awesome and that would tell these girls right there that if they keep doing what they need to do, that's where we're going to fall in," Van Dyke said.