The words “play with heart” appear on the back of the 2016 Kodiak volleyball practice shirts.
Longtime coach Amy Willis approves the message, and said it is a good motto for her squad that features only two returning varsity players.
“I think this team will play with heart,” the 11th-year coach said. “It is not going to be beautiful. I have been teasing them that they are the queens of chaos. They seem to be able to pull stuff out; it is really ugly and it seems to work.”
Kodiak begins defense of its Northern Lights Conference title at 7:30 p.m. today against Soldotna at KHS. The two teams collide again at 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
The Bears will look a lot different from when they walked off the floor as the fifth-place team at last year’s state tournament. Only two of the 11 players on this year’s varsity roster — seniors Kierra Murphy and Ryana Recustodio — were part of last year’s squad that finished with a 16-2 record and captured the school’s second regional title.
“We have really great people with junior varsity experience ready to step up and I’m excited about where we are going to end our season,” Willis said. “We have all season to get ready to defend our region title.”
Murphy, a defensive specialist on last year’s team that went 10-0 against NLC opponents during the regular season, is transitioning to setter this year and will share the duties with Ruth Dela Cruz.
Recustodio will stay on the outside and look to fill the offensive void left by graduated Kalameli Matautia and Richelle Walker, both NLC first-teamers.
The duo, both captains, will carry the youngsters through the season.
“Yana can hit just about any ball that a setter can get up, so we are really going to rely on her to be putting the ball away on the outside,” Willis said. “Murphy has really calm confidence, so she just gets stuff done.”
Senior Zennia Chia is the team’s other captain and is one of four middle blockers the Bears posses this season, a rarity for a Willis-coached squad.
“She has bound-less energy and a desire to be better,” the coach said. “She is always working to improve herself.”
Another rarity is the team’s average height, which Willis did not have calculated, but said this is the tallest team she has coached in her tenure — she coached from 1996 to 2000 and took the team back over in 2011. A taller front line makes it easier on the back row, which is traditionally strong for Kodiak.
“We need blocks and hopefully that is going to beef up what we are doing at the net,” she said.
Madelaine Egdorf, Tiana Faumui, Edlen Mangosing, Kyla Nocon, Kyra Romero, Kylie Squartsoff and Kathryn Carstens round out the varsity — all of them will be making their varsity debuts against Soldotna.
Willis is not concerned about posting another perfect regular season, but would like the team’s streak of five straight state appearances — the fourth longest in the state — to stay intact.
“That I want,” she said.