Yes, it’s football season.
But fall isn’t limited to Friday night lights. Its scope is greater.
Volleyball season is also underway in Northern Nevada. The Reed, Spanish Springs and Sparks programs enter 2016 with varying levels of promise.
A strong case could be made for the Cougars to be the 4A North favorite. The Raiders will attempt to find an identity under first-year coach Amy Morris, the program’s third coach in as many years. And the Railroaders are trying to climb out of the 3A North cellar.
Here’s a look at the three teams:
The writing for this 2016 season was etched on the wall way back in 2014 when the Cougars’ varsity roster was slammed with sophomores.
Now, it’s those sophomores turn to be seniors.
Returning for their senior seasons are first-team all-league selections Emily Moore (outside hitter) and setter Mackenzie O’Connell (setter), second teamer Kennedey Stroshine (libero), and honorable mentions Ireland Bennet (outside hitter) and Olivia Galletti (libero).
“We’re really putting it on them,” Spanish Springs coach Frank Sandomenico said. “It’s for them to be leaders in practice, to take charge in games. They’re going to be the key to our team. We feel like we (have) a really good core group of five seniors that are going to lead us to a league championship. That’s our goal this year.”
Last year, the Cougs (22-11, 12-4) finished one game back of McQueen for the HDL crown before falling to Damonte Ranch in five sets in the first round of the postseason.
Part of the reason for the anticipation surrounding Spanish Springs this fall, along with the surplus of returning senior talent, is the departure of an incredibly strong senior class in Northern Nevada last season. Several game-changing players from last year’s contenders (McQueen, Bishop Manogue, Damonte Ranch, Carson) are gone.
Sandomenico isn’t letting his team count up the wins, however.
“We’re not going to overlook anybody,” he said. “There were some great seniors last year, but some of those schools still have a lot of talent coming back … Our focus is on our league and we feel like we have an opportunity to win league. That’s going to be our focus all season.
“We’re going to respect every opponent we play. That’s one of our mottos this year: Respect all, fear none.”
The lone Spanish Springs senior from a year ago was Sami Szachara, a second-team all-league middle blocker. Delaney Spinks was penciled in as her replacement, before tearing her ACL in January. She will miss the season.
A trio of players will now assume that role: Sophomore Gracie Fuller, freshman Alyssa Zuzo (the tallest player on the team at six feet) and junior Amidori Anderson.
“We feel like we’re in a lot better spot than we would’ve thought a couple months ago,” Sandomenico said. “It was a big hole there but these three are really doing a nice job for us.”
With so many returners on this year’s roster, it will be hard for new faces to break through, but sophomore outside hitter Jordyn Boswell is a player to watch.
Boswell saw varsity time as a freshman only to return as a new player for her sophomore campaign.
“She’s probably our most improved player from a year ago,” Sandomenico said. “She’s ready to take on a big role.”
The Cougars started their season over the weekend at a non-league tournament in Yerington and will play a High Desert League match at Hug on Thursday, before competing in another non-league tournament, the High Sierra Classic, this weekend.
The Hug match was originally scheduled during fall break, but both teams opted to move it up.
The Raiders are entering the fall season with a new coach for the second straight year.
Amy Morris took the job in May, replacing James Crane.
It is Morris’ first year running the program but she’s not completely green to the players. The Raiders’ third coach in three years is already familiar with a number of the girls through the Northern Nevada Junior Volleyball Club, where she’s been the recruiting coordinator the last three years.
“It makes it easier if they already trust the coach,” Morris said. “It’s been an easy transition as far as that goes.”
The most trying aspect of taking over the program, she said, is getting the 15 varsity players to buy into the new culture she wants to establish.
Last year, Reed went 5-21, 4-12 which was good for the High Desert League’s fourth and final playoff spot.
Morris said it’s too soon to say where she wants to see her team finish this year.
“The goal is always make the top and make the playoffs,” she said. “It’s a little too early to tell.”
Reed is going to be led at the net by outside hitter Anna King and middle blocker Olivia Shepard. Behind them, Morris said the team will rely on scrappiness.
The Morris era will begin this weekend in the High Sierra Classic. The Raiders open 4A North play next Tuesday at Damonte Ranch, which is coached by Morris’ husband, Nathan Hallett.
It’s been a rough go the Railroaders of late.
Ninth-year coach Tarina Martinez-Elliott has had to lead the varsity, junior varsity and freshman programs largely by herself and the freshman team has struggled keeping enough players just to finish the season.
At the varsity level, club experience that is now seen throughout the 3A North is absent, as is size at the net.
So when Sparks was only allowed one open gym before tryouts Saturday, August 13, due to asbestos removal, it appeared to be the start of another one of “those years.”
But then 46 players tried out, some of whom have size to get over the net. And a handful of assistant coaches signed on right as the season began.
Sparks’ coach has no explanation for the large turnout, although other Sparks sports also have strong numbers in the freshman class.
“Maybe it’s because we didn’t have open gym all summer and they didn’t get burnt out,” she joked.
A pair of seniors will lead what Martinez-Elliott hopes to be the program’s resurgence. Violani Tau’Faao will set, she has the best hands on the team. Otherwise, she’s be playing outside hitter/middle blocker. And Anahi Guerrero will play just about everywhere, including outside hitter.
The Railroaders played in the tournament in Yerington over the weekend and will open 3A North play next Wednesday at Truckee.