Bobcats try to regroup after senior departures

If Marshalltown volleyball fans don’t recognize some of the student-athletes suiting up for the Bobcats this season, coach Terri Westendorf understands.

After all, the defending Central Iowa Conference Northern Division champions graduated nearly all of their production last season. Only sophomore Leiah Paustian has any significant experience.

“We are definitely going to be a step behind everyone else early on because we do have a lot of players who have not seen a lot of varsity time,” said Westendorf. “We are pretty much starting over with lots of new faces.”

The top four hitters – Eisha Oden, Lauren Mazour, Miranda Smith and Morgan Bellile – are gone as is last year’s setter, Madi Bellile. Those five former Bobcats also led the team in blocks, digs and most of the other offensive and defensive categories.

It is time for someone else to step up this year.

“The attitudes of this group have been great and they are all working really hard,” Westendorf said. “This will be a more defensive-minded team and should feature some really good servers.”

Leading the way will be Paustian, who was second in assists last year with 100, fourth in digs with 165 and also had 30 kills.

It is uncertain exactly what kind of role Paustian will play this season but she will definitely play a big part in deciding how good Marshalltown will be.

“Leiah and Rachel Whaley have been our most consistent hitters so far,” Westendorf said. “Leiah is a great passer, too. She will definitely be a huge contributor and we will ask her to be a leader.”

Whaley also is just a sophomore. She has been playing mostly on the outside, along with seniors Taylor Vaudt and Kali Banks. Battling for playing time at middle hitter are seniors Emily Rebik and Haley Vagjrt and juniors Sam Hughes and Jasmine Scott.

Senior Amanda Hughes has been working at right-side hitter.

“We won’t have near as much power as we had last year,” Westendorf said. “We won’t put it down opponent’s throats. We’ll have to place the ball well and we are working hard at doing that.”

With Paustian being able to play setter and senior Lindsey Ricken not being tall enough to play the front row, Westendorf said the Bobcats will likely play a 6-2 set all season.

Ricken is one of the better passers on the team and Westendorf likes the way she runs the offense.

The back-row specialists will be led by senior Sharissa Stansberry, who will start the season as the libero. Joining her along the back row will be senior Jordyn Simbides and junior Molly Major. The rest of the varsity includes seniors Emily Murtha, Brooklyn Amundson and Sam Smith.

“We should be very versatile this year,” Westendorf said. “We don’t really have anything decided yet as far as a lineup. I am confident though that I can play kids at different positions.”

There were two other losses suffered by the Bobcats. Junior Cassidy Blackford decided to concentrate solely on softball, and former freshman coach Jennifer O’Neal has joined Chris Brees’ staff at Marshalltown Community College.

“As bummed as we are to see Jennifer go, we are excited to have a former Bobcat working with us this year,” Westendorf said. “Jennifer is great, and I don’t blame Coach Brees for wanting her on his staff.”

The new freshmen coach will be Tahler Johnston, who was a 2007 all-stater for the Bobcat squad who reached the state tournament.

The Bobcats won the CIC Northern Division with a 3-0 record last year and finished 22-17 overall. The good news for Marshalltown in 2013 is that a pair of the other foes in the division appear to be in the same boat as the inexperienced Bobcats.

“We have seen Mason City play and we should be competitive with them and Fort Dodge got a new coach,” Westendorf said. “We should be competitive with them, too. I don’t know much about Ames yet but they are always a solid program.”

Ankeny Centennial will join the division this season. Westendorf’s Bobcats played in a scrimmage at Ankeny over the weekend and the Jaguars appear to primed for a big year in their first season as a varsity program.

“That team looks like the real deal to me,” Westendorf said. “They are locked and loaded.”

The Bobcats open the new season Monday at the Roundhouse against Pella Christian. Varsity action kicks off at 6:15 p.m. There will be no sophomore match.