Coming off a disappointing season a year ago, the Newcomerstown High Lady Trojans are looking to improve following a tough season on the volleyball court last season.
The Lady Trojans finished with a 7-15 record, including a sixth place showing in the Inter-Valley Conference with a 3-11 mark.
The first order of business for head coach John Dupke, who enters his ninth season leading the Lady Trojans' program, will be to replace a pair of valuable veteran middle hitters lost to graduation in four-year letterwinner Cydney McMillan and two-year letterwinner Kara Jenkins.
McMillan was an all-Eastern District first team selection and led the Lady Trojans in kills with 278, serving aces with 79 and was second on the team with 238 digs.
"Cydney was our leader offensively last year," Dupke said. "She holds the school record in kills and aces and was our go-to player. A lot of our offense ran through her the last few years, so she will be missed."
Jenkins was right behind McMillan in kills with 111 on the season.
"Kara was a very athletic player...she could jump through the ceiling," Dupke said. "She made a good team with Cydney and it's a tough assignment to lose two middle hitters of their caliber."
Other losses to graduation include three-year letterwinner Aerial Green and Kaitlynn Stringer.
NHS welcomes back a total of eight letterwinners back this year including senior three-year veteran Alyson Rexroad (outside hitter), who was third in kills last year with 97 and second on the team in service aces with 40.
"Alyson brings a lot of experience to the team and I will be leaning on her a lot," Dupke said. "Hopefully, she can step her game up even more this year. We will look for her to lead the way of offense this year"
Another pair of valuable returning senior two-year lettermen for the Lady Trojans will be Alicia Moore (setter) and Lydia Lehman (libero). Moore led Newcomerstown with 402 assists last year from her setter position.
"Alicia has been our setter for the last two years and has done just a great job," Dupke continued, "so I expect her to continue to lead the way out there on the floor.
"Lydia will be the key to our defense with her back row play,' Dupke said. "I will need her to a steadying influence on our younger players out there on the floor. I'm confident she will be up to the challenge."
Yet another returning letterwinner who will be counted on for a successful season will be sophomore Karlee Peach (setter-outside hitter), who provided some solid play last year as a freshman. Peach finished with a total of 93 assists a year ago.
"Karlee will be our second setter in our 6-2 offense this year," Dupke explained. "She will also play some at outside hitter as she will be one of our taller players this year."
Rounding out the returning letterwinners are senior Marlayna McIntire (middle hitter) and juniors Sara Miller (setter-outside hitter) and Jocelyn Lenhoff (outside hitter).
A pair of players up from junior varsity last year are junior Erin Burrier (middle hitter) and sophomore Jayde Bricker (middle hitter) ,who along with McIntire are battling to fill the open middle hitter slots.
"Erin has really improved her game," Dupke said. "She played a lot of Junior Olympic volleyball over the summer and she will be taking over one of those open middle hitter spots.
"Jayde is in there battling for a slot at middle hitter for us," he continued. "Thus far, she's having a good preseason and looks like she will contribute quite a bit."
Dupke also is getting some help this year from senior Kylie Morris (outside hitter), who transferred in from Indian Valley High.
"Kylie hasn't played volleyball for a few years," Dupke said, "but she's a hard working kid and getting better each day, and we're glad to have her on the team."
Completing the roster for the Lady Trojans are junior Paige McMullen (outside hitter), sophomores Jorden Moore (outside hitter), Makenzie Moner (setter), Riley Kellish (outside hitter) and freshmen Susannah Hall (outside hitter), Keegan Eggleston (middle hitter), Amber Moore (outside hitter).
When identifying an area of strength, Dupke was quick to point to the service line.
"I feel we really serve the ball well," he said. "We have a lot of kids with a variety of serves that give teams different looks."
"Karlee is very accurate with her serving and great at hitting open spots on the floor," Dupke continued. "Then we have Jocelyn who has a lot of movement on her serve and when Alyson gets going she can be just deadly."
Another area of confidence for Dupke is in setting, as he feels he has four quality setters currently in the NHS program.
"Our top two setter are Alicia and Karlee," Dupke said, "but we also have Sara and Makenzie (Moner) who could step right in and do a solid job if we needed them. I have a lot of confidence and feel that setter is the deepest position on the team."
One area that is an concern for Dupke is the overall lack of height his Lady Trojans have to work with this year.
"Our lack of height puts a lot of pressure on our hitters as our tallest girl is Erin who is 5-9," Dupke explained. "Most nights, we will be at a real disadvantage at the net."
Like most prepared coaches, however, Dupke has a game plan to fight the height disadvantage.
"Because of our lack of height, we will really need to hustle and play some great defense," Dupke said. "We have been working hard on conditioning so we can keep up that high level of intensity the whole match each and every night."
In sizing up the race for the Inter-Valley Conference title, Dupke pointed to state power Tuscarawas Central Catholic as the team to beat.
"The road for the IVC goes through TCC once again," Dupke said. "They just have a great program that consistently makes deep runs in the tournament. They have a lot of weapons back.
"In general the entire IVC should be strong," he added. "There will be a different feel this year as we have a lot of new coaches and then we also have a new team this year in East Canton."
Back for her ninth season as Dupke's junior varsity coach will be Lisa Ashbaugh. At the junior high level, Natalie Miller will coach the eighth grade team and Amanda Armstrong will lead the seventh grade.
"We just want to make sure we work hard every night," Dupke said. "We want to improve each time out and get ready for tournament play and hope to be playing at a high level then."