Team hopes heart overcomes height

On your bump, get set, spike!

The 2001 girls volleyball season begins Thursday, and the Hood River Valley Eagles have upset on their minds.

The Mt. Hood Conference feaÿtures some of the best teams in Oregon, including three nationalÿly ranked teams -- Barlow, Gresÿham, Central Catholic -- and all are notoriously hard-hitting clubs.

In a league where six-feet tall is the norm, the undersized Eagles will have their work cut out for them. HRV doesn't have a player over 5'11", but don't expect them to back down from anyone.

"We have a solid group of girls who work hard and play well together," coach Tracy Norton said. "We are stronger right now than we were at this time last year, and I know we can beat the teams in our league if we put everything together each night."

The team has varsity experiÿence, returning four starters from last season -- Stephanie Halici, Lindsey Sanguras, MaryBeth Maÿthews and Lesley Betts -- and features three more seniors -- Elizabeth Acevedo, Leanne Broÿphy and Tara Level -- to add stability.

They also have Norton to guide them throughout the season -- something she was unable to do last year because of maternity leave.

"Not being here for the first half of last season was difficult on me and the girls," Norton said. "We were never able to reach of level of consistency. Having everyone on the same page this year will really help."

Norton's game plan this season is to attack from the middle of the net more often, with Betts and Mathews seeing most of the chances. She also wants to run a faster attack starting along the back row, which will provide more outside shots for Sanguras and Halici.

"We went to the outside way too much last year, and backed ourselves into a corner," Norton said. "We need to concentrate on centering the ball more to frusÿtrate the defense."

The Eagles will rely on two new setters this year to get the ball into the middle -- junior Kara Herman and freshman Meghan Flink.

"Accurate passing will be key to setting up our shots," Norton said. "I have every confidence that Kara and Meghan can step into that role."

The team's big hitters are the same as last year. Sanguras and Halici will manage the outsides, while Betts and Mathews will anÿchor the middle. Betts was an outside hitter last year and must adjust to both the offensive and defensive strategies in the middle.

"Blocking at the net will be a big key this year," Norton said. Lesley is a smart player, and a very good jumper. She will surÿprise some people in the middle."

Norton stressed that the team must improve its blocking in all areas. If the play isn't halted, or at least impeded, at the net, the back row is left to dig every ball.

Level, the team's motivational leader, will be in charge of stabiÿlizing the back row with her deÿfensive expertise. Acevedo also must accept a great deal of reÿsponsibility on defense for the team to succeed."It can be hard knowing that you're playing the best teams every night," Norton said, "but if our mental outlook is positive, we can play with Gresÿham and Barlow."

The Eagles will get their first test of the season against Barlow Thursday at HRVHS, and then will travel to Grant over the weekÿend for a non-conference tournaÿment.

"Barlow is always strong," Norÿton said. "They lost a few top players, but they always have someone to step in.

"Our goal is to play well togethÿer and not leave anything on the court. A strong showing in the first game would really set the tone for the season."

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