Looking back at the 2019 volleyball season, there are feelings of accomplishment and hope for the future.
Under first-year head coach Doug Magee, the Lady Riverhawks more than doubled their overall and league win totals, jumped from 19 sets won in 2018 to 29 sets this fall, dropped from 42 sets lost to 31 sets lost and added a pair of tournament victories through the successful campaign.
And while TD finished one win out of third place and two from second place in an Intermountain Conference that featured the 5A state champions, Ridgeview, and the fourth-place winner, Crook County, there are some reasons to believe the program’s arc is trending upwards.
“I am proud of the progress the girls showed throughout the season,” Magee said. “They gave it their best and fought the entire time. We now are excited to see who will step up and show off their talents. We are about the team and team success. It is a pleasure working with them. They are such amazing girls and there are some great things to come in their future.”
The 2019 campaign also meant the end of the journey for seniors Breanna Birchfield, Kilee Hoylman, Lauryn Belanger, Audrey Synon, and Allyson Stewart and Chiara Cavallucci.
Birchfield said that she has best friends on the court, but it was even more of a thrill to have her family in the stands cheering on over the years.
“To have the people that I love support me here, I am definitely going to miss it,” Birchfield said. “This is one of the greatest times in my life.”
The Dalles fielded one of the youngest teams in the Intermountain Conference with the four top seniors surrounded by five juniors, Charlie May, Hannah Biehn, Maggie Justesen, Elizabeth Velador and Jayleen Hernandez.
Magee had the chance to insert his freshmen Zoe Dunn, Lydia DiGennaro, Kaylee Fleming, Kennedy Abbas and Maddie Stembridge, and saw some good results out of freshmen Paige Compton, Gigi Hiser, Ahnikah Rubio and several others, so there are plenty of pieces that can fit in the mix next fall.
Birchfield feels that the experience playing in a tough league and classification will help them.
“We did some things that you would not expect from this age group,” Birchfield said. “We graduate only four main seniors this year. They are going to be monsters next year and for years to come.”
Lauryn Belanger had one final chance to put her skills on display this season and said it was rewarding in many ways.
She credited athletics for keeping her on the right track and providing a family atmosphere she could enjoy.
If she could only have one more year of eligibility.
“I think next year, they definitely have the right people to make it happen,” Belanger said in an earlier interview. “It is going to be sad not being able to play with them and enjoy that success. I know how much potential they have.”
In order to fulfill that potential, Magee and his coaching staff of Siterra Trujillo, Shawna Ortega and Kelly DeLeon have already devised an offseason game plan to get her troops back to their winning ways.
They plan to focus on weight training, workouts, game action and club ball as the most important elements to follow through on.
“I think it will be important for us to get more involved with that because you only get better with the more matches you play,” said the coach. “I am hoping a lot of my kids choose to take advantage of that. We are going to do lots of weights to strengthen ourselves and we will work hard in the offseason so we can be ready to go next year.”
Magee added that every spot is open for the taking next season. There will be some open slots with the departure of the seniors, so with the influx of new talent coming in to challenge several returners, it could make for healthy competition.
“We have several returners who are going to vying for those spots,” Magee said. “We also have a bunch of JV players who gained experience this year too.
“It is going to be hard to fill the loss of these seniors, but at the same time, it is going to be exciting to see a new player step up and have that opportunity,” she added.
It seems like only yesterday that these veterans were wide-eyed, fresh-faced freshmen learning the volleyball ropes.
Those four seasons came and went.
“Every year goes by faster and faster,” Birchfield said. “When the end of the season comes, you always look forward to another year. There is not another year. I am still so sad that I am not going to be able to play anymore in high school with these girls. I am going to miss it a lot.”
Justesen broke out in her junior season, playing multiple positions on the court, and Fleming earned her stripes as a hitter and claimed one of two all-league awards as an honorable mention selection, joining second-team winner, Synon.
“It makes me really excited. We still are a young team,” Justesen said.
“We won’t be as young next year; there will be a lot of sophomores and seniors, which is good because you want experience,” Justesen said. “We have all come up at the same time and we will challenge each other to get better.”
In his first year at TD, Magee admitted he has learned a lot about himself, the players and the expectations.
He is still learning every day, which is a good thing.
The uptick in wins, coupled with team unity and a renewed passion of the sport are good foundational aspects to build upon.
“I think it shows that girls are excited about volleyball again,” Magee said. “That is our goal here as coaches. We want them to want to play volleyball here and enjoy success.
“We want to build our program even stronger to compete with these other teams in our conference. This is a good start.”