MORRIS — Any time a team loses a Division I athlete, there are going to be big shoes to fill.
The 2018 edition of the Morris volleyball team is no exception, as the Redskins are going to play for the first time in four years without departed setter Ashley Hood, who has moved on to Western Kentucky. Also gone from last year's team are outside hitter Calleen Soper (Division II Limestone College in South Carolina) and defensive specialist Paige Valentine.
"We do have some big shoes to fill, that's for sure," Morris coach Taylor Lafond said. "You lose players like Ashley, Calleen and Paige, and those are some pretty big holes."
Despite the losses, Lafond is optimistic about her team's ability to fill them. Returning from last year's team are seniors Olivia Schultz, Sam Machietto, Nicole Guth, Krista Runchey, Syd Trotter, and Alex Binder, as well as sophomore Kennedy Dransfeldt.
"I would say the strength of our team right now is our hitters," Lafond said. "Olivia, Sam, Nicole and Kennedy are all back from last year. That's a pretty good returning lineup on offense. Our focus for the early season will be defense, because the hitters can't do much if the ball is on the ground. We need our defenders to get it up in the air and to the setters, so they can get it to the hitters. When our hitters get it, I feel pretty good about our chances."
Replacing a setter like Hood won't be easy, and it also won't be a one-person job. Lafond will most likely utilize a two-setter system, with Hannah Barth, Jada Less and Paige Thorson all battling for time.
"They can all do the job," Lafond said. "It's going to be a matter of who can get in there and mix well with the hitters. A lot of setting boils down to how well you understand how and where the hitters want the ball."
Other players that figure to get on the court incude juniors Alana Dunne, Erin Halpin, Shawnee Timm, Olivia Doss, and Kayla Adams. Morris' varsity roster currently has 17 members, and only 15 can dress for the postseason. Because of that, Lafond said she is going to institute a dress list for all games.
"We are only going to dress 15 for each game," she said. "That's all we can have in the postseason, so we might as well do it all season. It will definitely make the girls work hard in practices and matches so they can be on that list."
The Redskins are in their final season in the Northern Illinois Big 12 East, and the non-conference portion of the schedule is one that Lafond hopes will help prepare them for league play.
"We have some good non-conference games," she said. "We play schools like Lockport and Bradley-Bourbonnais, and we go to Sterling, which is always one of the top teams in the other side of the conference. They will help us get ready for conference, and our conference helps prepare us for the postseason. We also have tournaments at Joliet Central, where we should see some big schools, Bradley-Bourbonnais, Reed-Custer and Beecher. Reed-Custer is a smaller school tournament, but they usually have some pretty good small schools there. Beecher is pretty much what we will see in the postseason.
"We are excited about the season. Our numbers are pretty good. There are right around 40 girls in the program, We should be a pretty fun team to watch. Our girls are working really hard and they have good volleyball instincts."