By Ray Hamill — With nine returning players from last year’s undefeated league championship team, the Del Norte Warriors have plenty of experience on the volleyball court this year and will begin league play as favorites in the Big 5.
That group includes reigning Big 5 MVP McKenna Curtis, as well as all-league first-team selections Lili Nunez, Reece White and Bliss Blackburn.
And it’s not just the experience that makes the Warriors a dangerous proposition this fall, but also the experience this group of players has playing together, especially in a sport where team chemistry is so important.
“We have five seniors that have played together for years,” head coach Meagan Curtis said. “And just about all of them have played (multiple) sports together for a long time, so they are very familiar with each other.”
The Del Norte girls showcased their obvious talents on their way to an 8-0 record in the Big 5 last year and dropped just four sets in league play.
This year, the team is working on what Meagan Curtis describes as “the finer details.”
“We’ve been really working on their vision on the court and anticipation of what’s coming next,” she said. “We’ve been focusing on our defensive play and a higher level of thinking when it comes to that part of the game.”
So far so good, and the Warriors got the new season off to a good start at the Yreka Tournament over the weekend, winning four of their five matches and reaching the tournament semifinals, where they fell to Foothill.
After featuring just two seniors last year and just one the year before, this year’s class of five seniors bring a lot of experience to the table.
Retaining the league title is the team’s primary goal, and they’re not taking their Big 5 rivals lightly, but this group also wants to leave their mark on program history and go further in the North Coast Section playoffs and reach the state playoffs.
Last season they reached the second round of the section playoffs.
“I think we can do better (this year), especially now that we got a look at teams down south,” McKenna Curtis said earlier this summer.
They certainly appear to have the depth to do so.
The four returning all-league selections — Curtis, White and Nunez are seniors and Blackburn is a sophomore — are expected to lead the way again and rarely do any of them come off the court, but several other players are also expected to play key roles, including seniors Ava O’Reilley (back row) and Breann Winningham (front row).
Steinruck, in particular, should give the Warriors an added boost after missing much of last season through injury.
“She’s back 100 percent right now,” the head coach said.
Junior Lauren Stutes also is back and is expected to play a key role for the defending Big 5 champs, while fellow juniors Carlee Harper and Ariana Stansbury move up from last year’s JV roster to round out the 11-player squad and also give the team some necessary depth.
“These younger kids, they’ve got some experience,” Meagan Curtis said. “They’re really tough.”
The experience doesn’t end with the players.
In addition to Meagan Curtis, this year’s coaching staff also features former College of the Redwoods coach Petra Lorenzi, as well as the very experienced Pablo and Debbi Lorenzi.
And that depth on the staff is already paying dividends and allows the coaches to focus on different aspects of the game with different groups during practice.
The Warriors, who play tournaments at Red Bluff and Sonoma in September and at Medford and Coos Bay in October, will open league play on Sept. 14 at Arcata, one of the teams that is expected to challenge them for this year’s league title.