The volleyball team at Emerald Ridge High these past few seasons was simply incredible, leading the Jaguars to a Class 4A second-place finish at the state tournament last season.
This year it’s the backups to stepping toward center court for a team aiming to capture another South Puget Sound League title. With a deep, young talent pool to pull from, coaches Bobby McGivern and Jill Fox-Mullen have options.
This depth with be the key in the Jaguars’ South Puget Sound League South Division title defense.
“The good thing is we have seven returning players — they were either in the starting lineup or they were the first ones off the bench,” McGivern said. “We still come back with some experience with five seniors. It’s getting the young ones (sophomores) acclimated.”
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With captains and seniors in Makenna Smith and Allie Bauer leading the way, and Ashley Wesenberg guarding the net, the Jaguars believe they have enough firepower to continue their dominance.
And to do this, Emerald Ridge will rely on last season’s youth and bench to step up and help dominate.
“It was big losing my four horsemen (last year),” McGivern said. “With Ashley at 6-foot-4, we expect big things out of her this year, and Makenna Smith has improved so much since last year.”
“Last year, everyone knows we had those really strong seniors, but last year we had just as strong (freshman),” Smith added. “They (were) really all growing and just feeding off each other. I think we’re going to be really good this year.”
With sophomore Jadyn Mullen moving back to her natural position as Emerald Ridge’s setter, and with 6-foot-1 sophomore Kava Durr stepping into a full-time role, the Jaguars look just as potent on offense as they were last year at the net.
But it will be the seniors on the squad that will drive this team toward success. With the 5-foot-9 Smith now becoming the go-to scorer for the Jaguars, it’s a job McGivern believes she can handle in stride.
“She was the opposite of Jenna (Mullen), and now she has to step up and lead this team,” McGivern said. “And she’s doing it.”
With Mullen gone, Smith can no longer be the support piece she was for the past two seasons. She knows this as she tries to help her team defend its league bragging rights.
“I’m definitely embracing (my role),” Smith said. “But having Jenna last year and the year before my sophomore year — playing on the opposite side of her — she always pushed me. Now I’m going to try to fill those shoes this year.”
But it might be more of the same for Smith with Wesenberg — as well as Durr — playing at the net as well.
The 6-foot-4 Wesenberg brings a dominant force in the middle as the Utah State commit has taken the next step in her career.
“We have a lot of new girls that are younger, so I hope we can build each other up and have a good year,” Wesenberg said.
Every team expects some kind of drop-off when it loses the kind of talent that Emerald Ridge had. But for the Jaguars, they don’t expect there to be any — which is surprising given the talent in the SPSL.
“Definintely (no) drop-off,” Wesenberg said. “We have good power (at the net) with Kava and Taylor Templeman ... they should make us good.”
The playoffs last season were a harsh experience to go through. After losing to Bellarmine Prep twice late last season — both in the district and state finals — the Jaguars feel their youth gained from that experience.
But that’s not the focus McGivern has put on his team.
All offseason it’s been about the future, not the past. It’s about the first game on a schedule where Emerald Ridge is trying to prove something.
“I think it was the mistake that we made last year,” Smith said. “This year we decided to take it one game at a time. Right now, our focus is on Tahoma, and then we’ll focus on Puyallup after that.”
Even if the SPSL South is tougher this year, with the front court Emerald Ridge can bring out each game, it’s the Jaguars’ for the taking.