BIG 5 VOLLEYBALL — Can anyone stop the Tigers?

Submitted photo – Last year’s Arcata Tigers championship team.

By Ray Hamill — Big 5 volleyball begins with a bang on Thursday night, as defending league champion Arcata faces a tough opening matchup against perennial contenders Del Norte in Crescent City.

It should be a fun few weeks with five competitive teams and multiple contenders for the pennant.

“I think it’ll be tough,” Arcata head coach Laurie Griffith said. “I think we’re all going to be pretty strong and I think it will be a battle this year.”

Fortuna head coach Rob Hayes echoed the sentiment.

“Our league is going to be tough,” he said. “Arcata’s always good, Del Norte’s always good and I think we’re better all-around.”

Opening night also sees Eureka travel to McKinleyville, while Fortuna has a bye.

Both the Loggers and Panthers have shown some promise through the preseason and both feature a key group of players they will rely heavily on.

Both also have some key experience.

“I like the fact that we have a group of core seniors that have played together for a long time,” McKinleyville head coach See Hee Hwang said. “And they’re fun to watch and fun to coach. All of the girls, they work well together.”

That core group of Mack seniors includes Camryn Pinard, Trinity Preston, Rebecca Barnett and Chloe Alves.

The Loggers, meanwhile, have had several players contribute in the preseason, including senior team leaders Mariah Napoleon and Maeghan Hampton.

Juniors Anisha Rechelluul and Isis Poteet also are enjoying big early seasons, as are seniors Pule Fonoti and Bridgette Dunn.

The defending league champions, meanwhile, are senior heavy and have a wealth of experience.

“It’s a great group of girls that work together well,” Griffith said. “I’m very excited about this season.”

Reigning league MVP Sydney Hasselquist is back to lead the way in her senior season, and has been “killing it outside,” according to her coach, while libero Lily Rust-Kelley is back to lead the back row.

The Tigers also have some talented juniors, including multi-sport standout Nora Talty at setter.

The Huskies will be led by their three team captains, seniors Kylee Fennell and Courtney Wilson and junior Sarah Keating.

And this year, their head coach feels they have improved in one key area.

“We’re much better defensively that last year,” Hayes said. “And we’re still strong offensively.”

Khalil Lodes is another junior who has impressed at middle blocker, while Fennell and Grace Scilacci have both impressed on the outside.

“I’ve got 12 kids that can play volleyball at a high level,” the head coach said.

More to follow on the Del Norte Warriors.

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