By Joe Naiman
Practice for Ramona High School’s volleyball team began Aug. 16, and today’s seven-school scrimmage at Mount Carmel will give the Bulldogs competitive experience against other squads.
“We are ready,” said Ramona coach Connie Halfaker. “This team is already unified. It seems like we’ve been in the gym for a month and a half, not a week and a half.”
The Bulldogs return three of last year’s starters and a total of five players who spent all of 2010 on the varsity, so they had somewhat of a head start on team chemistry.
“The last two weeks we’ve been developing a lot of mechanics and fitness,” Halfaker said.
A major advantage for the Bulldogs is that 2010 starting setter Mikayla Derochie will once again play that position.
“She is developing into one of the top setters in our league,” Halfaker said. “We’re still in the Palomar League, so that’s saying something.”
Derochie is a junior this year.
“She really improved on her leadership ability, being able to run the floor and understanding how to create offensive opportunities for us,” Halfaker said.
The other two returning starters are middle blockers and seniors. Alexis Sharpe will be one of the middle blockers this year.
“She’s our seasoned middle, and she has the ability to run,” Halfaker said. “She adds variety to her offensive attributes.”
Michaela Owens was the other starting middle blocker in 2010, although her ability to play several positions will allow Halfaker to utilize her as a utility player.
“She can play anywhere,” Halfaker said. “She can do everything.”
Neither Halfaker or Owens interpreted the move as a demotion.
“She’ll choose to be supportive wherever she is,” Halfaker said. “She’ll take that role and she’ll never miss a beat.”
That will allow junior Kelsie Whitten, who was on Ramona’s junior varsity last year before seeing some varsity action during the CIF playoffs, to move into a starting middle blocker role.
“She’s made a tremendous amount of physical progress already,” Halfaker said of Whitten. “She’s going to be a very strong asset.”
Whitten’s strength is her blocking, but Halfaker will play Owens as much as possible at some position when the senior doesn’t need a break.
“That kind of value, you can’t replace somebody like Michaela to be whatever the team needs at the moment,” Halfaker said.
Ramona’s two starting outside hitters had some varsity experience last year. Jenna Hickle, now a junior, was a backup in 2010.
“She’s stepped into a starting role,” Halfaker said.
Senior Samantha Waelchli was a transfer last year and had to wait for CIF clearance.
“She got some playing time during playoffs,” Halfaker said.
“The two of them are going to hold down our outside very well,” Halfaker said of Hickle and Waelchli. “They’re going to be very involved in all the ball control aspects as well.”
In 2010, Nicole Darrough was a defensive specialist and backup opposite hitter on the varsity. This year the senior will be the team’s libero.
“She’s going to be extremely effective,” said Halfaker. “She is fast and confident and focused — very, very focused — and she is determined to take care of business back there.”