The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team is wrapping day three of pre-season practices and so far the outlook looks for another championship run with the talent that is on the floor.
The Cougars return six players from a year ago when they won 35 games and captured an 18th straight Region IX titles. Gering graduate Lauren Shaul, one of the six returning players, is excited for the season.
"I have pretty high expectations for the season," Shaul, a Gering High graduate, said. "The incoming freshmen so far have showed a lot of skill and so far we are ahead of where we were last year. My expectations are high."
Shaul said everything is going well so far.
"The first couple of practices have actually been pretty good," she said. "I have been impressed with the freshmen."
Cougar freshman Jayme Commins of Ogallala is one of two freshman setters on the teams. Commins, along with 5-9 Enna Masaki of Kailua, Hawaii, will be handling the setting duties this season. Commins is excited to start a different volleyball path with players from around the states and world.
"I am really excited to continue playing volleyball," Commins said. "It has been really fun learning all the other girls and starting over from Ogallala High School where I knew the girls from when I was really young where we all played together.
Binny Canales, who is in his fourth season guiding the Cougars, sees some good things with this team.
"Right now we are teaching them how we want to do things. They look fine. They are good, athletic, jump well, and we are playing at a higher point over the net then we have been. They are a good bunch of kids and we are excited for the season."
WNCC welcomed 14 players to practice on Wednesday. The Cougars return six players that have plenty of national tournament experience. Joining Shaul, a 5-7 defensive specialist from Gering, includes 5-2 Genesis Benitez-Fontanez of Puerto Rico; 5-9 Brooke Kaawa of Moanahua, Hawaii; 6-3 Josie Maldonado of Toa Baja, Puerto Rico; 5-9 Kadara Marshall of Hilo, Hawaii; and 5-5 Kirstee Trees of Riverton, Wyoming.
Shaul said there should be a good mix of talent with the sophomores and a talented freshmen class and the team is meshing just fine.
"We started a group chat over the summer so coming into the season we already have a little bond," Shaul said. Being in touch over the summer definitely helped us start knowing each other and practicing hard. Just being able to click on the court helps a lot."
Commins and Masaki lead the freshman class. The other talented newcomers include 5-11 Aloni Jordan of Maryland Heights, Missouri; 6-1 Aneta Faksova of the Czech Republic; 6-3 Sarena Bartley of Ridgefield, Washington; 5-11 Kaile Tuisamatatele of Kapolei, Hawaii; 6-0 Sophie Lau of Potsdam, Germany; and 5-8 Logan Belford of Loveland, Colorado.
Commins is excited for the coming year and said there is plenty of talent on this team and it is just a matter of everyone learning where everyone is on the court.
"All of us haven't played together that much and the hardest part is just getting used to each other to where we everyone is on the court and just talking a lot," she said. "For me it has been a little rough getting back to touching the ball, but it has been fun "
The first week was more-or-less a time to get back in the flow, things will pick up in the next two weeks. WNCC will go through two-a-day practices until the first day of classes on Aug. 21 and then it is back to single practices.
WNCC will have a couple preseason scrimmages before they open the season Aug. 25-26 at the Iowa Western Invite. The Cougars are scheduled to scrimmage EWC on Aug. 15 in Torrington, and then they will have an alumni scrimmage on Tuesday, Aug. 22.
Canales said the team is progressing well to get ready for the season.
"We want to keep growing," Canales said. "We want our kids to grow as a team and develop and be a team. The winning will take care of itself. We just have to be aggressive and have them keep developing. We are at a point where we want to get better every year. We want to improve these kids and they will take care of the rest."