With a new coach at the helm, the Blaine volleyball program has high hopes for an exciting year.
“They’re getting after it,” said athletic director Wayne Vezzetti. “There’s been a big turnout, and just from the first few practices you can tell the mindset is all in.”
Coming off of a season in which the Borderites didn’t earn a single win, changing the mindset was the first order of business for new head coach Bryan Clausen, who brings 25 years of coaching experience to the position. With over 40 girls joining the squad this year and a slew of returning upperclassmen on the varsity team, Clausen said the Borderites should be competitive.
“Even though we’ve only had five practices, I’ve seen a lot of talent. It’s a very athletic squad and there’s a lot of enthusiasm,” he said.
Clausen has served as an assistant coach at Iowa’s Western Community College and coached at a community college in Portales, N.M. Most recently, he coached club teams for 14- and 15-year-olds in Lynden.
“I just enjoy the game,” he said. “I enjoy playing it, I enjoy teaching it and I want to share that with the girls.”
Blaine went 0–12 last year with no seniors to lead the team. This year, based on the large turnout and some talented returning players, “we’re looking to see a lot of improvement,” Clausen said.
In the challenging Northwest Conference (NWC), a winning season is never a sure thing. Blaine will compete in 1A against such teams as Lynden Christian, who went to the state tournament last year before losing to Freeman High School.
“Volleyball in Whatcom County is very competitive,” Vezzetti said. “The NWC is the place to be when it comes to athletics, and volleyball is right up there with the rest of them.”
Senior setter Kayla Ubil and junior middles Mandy Hayes and Mikayla Deming will likely be among those leading the varsity, Clausen said. As of August 30, the team hadn’t split into varsity, junior varsity and freshman teams yet, and Clausen said a varsity spot wasn’t guaranteed, even for returning players.
“Everyone will have a fair shake at making varsity,” he said.
Jacqui Whilskey and Inna Andrushenko return to coach the junior varsity and freshmen teams this year.
Clausen said the big turnout this year is encouraging, especially as he’s been trying to build up the school’s perception of the sport after a losing season.
He pointed out the benefits of playing volleyball, especially for those who play other sports in the winter and spring. With its focus on teamwork, agility and coordination, volleyball is often a complementary sport for girls who play basketball in the winter or softball in the spring.
“When girls play multiple sports, it helps all the athletic programs because they’re keeping their skills and fitness up year-round,” Clausen said.
Multi-sport athletes also get a boost to their college applications.
“College recruiters notice when students play multiple sports,” Clausen said. “You learn a lot of life lessons, like teamwork and communication, that are valuable for the rest of your life.”
At practice September 3, the skills of teamwork and communication were on display. Clausen directed from the sidelines as the girls scrimmaged each other.
“Keep talking out there!” he said. “As soon as the serve is in the air, tell your teammates, ‘long, short, left or right.’”
Both sides kept up the volley, constantly shifting positions and telling each other who would get the next return. Often, a volley would end when someone set up a spike for Deming or Hayes, who leapt to reach above the net and spike the ball to the floor on the other side.
Every time a point was gained – and especially after a serve for an ace – the girls joined in a quick chant to support each other and recognize good play, clearly demonstrating the makings of a tight-knit team.
The Borderites will play in the Lynden Tournament on Saturday, September 14. The tournament begins at 8 a.m. Blaine will play its first match at home against Meridian on Tuesday, September 17 at 7 p.m.