SENECA - Well nothing is ordinary or normal anymore and that definitely includes high school sports–the COVID pandemic and associated quarantines disrupted the recently concluded basketball season.
While some volleyball was played in fall, other schools opted for a specially designed, condensed season-sandwiched between the winter sports and the spring sports.
Seneca High School broke with the Ridge and Valley Conference and became the only school in the conference to opt for the spring replacement season.
It turns out only one school in the Scenic Bluffs Conference wanted to play in the fall, so a switch was made and Seneca is now playing teams from the Scenic Bluffs. A condensed season, featuring two and three games per week is now underway.
Second-year Seneca varsity volleyball coach Jessica Dworschack seems more than up to the task. The persistent young coach seems to relish the tougher competition that Scenic Bluffs is ready to provide.
As of last week, Seneca’s record was 1-1, losing to Bangor in four games and then defeating Brookwood in three games.
Last year, Seneca was 11-1 overall in the regular season, not including tournaments. Seneca was 7-0 in the Ridge and Valley Conference and repeated as champions for the fifth yearin a row.
Last year in the post season, Seneca had a first round bye, and then beat Wauzeka-Steuben 3-0 in the second round. In the regional final, Seneca beat Highland 3-1. Unfortunately, playing on the road in the first round of the sectional, Seneca lost to Iowa-Grant 1-3.
The team lost some pretty solid players to graduation last year, including the Ridge and Valley Player of the Year, outside hitter Makenna Greene.
Also lost to graduation last year were middle hitter Savanna Wallin, defensive specialist Kelsy Ostrander, and defensive specialist Codi Bausch.
However, there plenty of talented returning players to build a team around. It starts with all-conference setter senior Nicky Trautsch. Another all-conference player returning as an outside hitter is Anya Aspenson. Two other seniors Delaney Boland and Ava Payne will also return. Sophomore libero Grace Check and sophomore defensive specialist Lindsey Sime are also returning.
Some of the new players looking to take on bigger roles this season include four sophomores–outside hitter Kendra Chambers, middle hitter Aubrey Wallin, defensive specialist Bridget Hagensick and middle hitter Jorja Clark.
Coach Dworschack noted that the four sophomores are seeing some playing time this season.
Seneca’s strength this year is definitely their core of returning players.
“We have four seniors returning who all started last season,” Dworschack explained. “They're great leaders and help the underclassman a ton in practices and games. They're willing to teach the underclassman what they know and want everyone on the team to get better.
“The underclassman work hard and are getting better every day,” the coach said. “A lot of our girls spent a lot of time last summer and fall working on their volleyball skills. Overall, our team is great at talking on the court, which is key to having success in volleyball.”
Seneca’s biggest challenges involve getting the new players integrated and up to speed.
“Serving has been a weakness of ours this season, but we're hoping to change that!” the coach acknowledged. “Playing our best level of volleyball, not playing with our competition. We have younger players playing this season, lots of sophomores! Working on playing smart, transitioning, seeing the court, etc.”
Seneca will employ a 5-1, centered on their all-conference setter Nicky Trautsch.
“The team’s goal this year is playing and giving our best as athletes and as a team,” the coach said. “Never giving up, even if we lose a set.”
Dworschack understands the team’s unique situation this year.
“The Scenic Bluffs Conference is a strong conference to play in,” the coach said. “I anticipate Bangor and Royall being the strongest competition, but anything can happen in this conference. I could see a lot of teams splitting games in this conference. It will super fun and competitive for everyone.”
Nevertheless, this year presents some unique challenges for the team including longer distances to games, a very condensed schedule and more.
“We have two games that will be farther than what we're used to in our Ridge and Valley Conference,” Dworschack noted. “Necedah and New Lisbon will be a hike for us. All of the other games are similar to Weston, Ithaca, and La Farge.
“The fall and spring seasons were shortened to six weeks of games,” the coach said. “This is the biggest challenge; volleyball is already a short season and now it's even shorter. We play two or three games a week and don't have as much time to practice and prepare. Only having one gym at our school has also been challenging with middle school basketball, middle school volleyball and high school volleyball sharing the gym at different times.”
Despite the challenges, second-year coach Jessica Dworschack remains excited about the team this season.“We have a great group of girls,” the coach said. “This season seems extra special since I have coached the seniors all four years. I was their freshman coach my second year teaching at Seneca and it has been rewarding building a relationship with them and watching them grow over the last four years. For a small school, it's exciting to have so many girls who play the sport. Other coaches always comment on our numbers. We have 82 kids in our high school and have enough girls in volleyball for a freshman, junior varsity, and varsity team. It's pretty awesome!”