BELLEVILLE — When you don't have a lot of height like the Belleville West Maroons, you'd better be scrappy.
"We have two girls at 5-foot-10, and everybody else is shorter," Maroons coach Austin Betz said. "Obviously, that is something we are going to have to make up for in other areas of the game, like defense.
"We've got some young girls coming in who are pretty feisty players. We're pretty good defensively all around. My front girls are pretty good defensively. I think that is something that will keep us in the games even when we're overmatched in the front row."
It seems strange that the Maroons, who were always blessed with an abundance of tall players for years and years, would be height challenged.
"(Former coach) Charlie (Rodman) always says that he wouldn't know what to do with the team we've got now," Betz said. "He had girls like Marnie Triefenback. When I graduated from high school (in 200l), he had four girls who were over 6-foot tall."
The Maroons bring back the majority of a squad that posted a 19-17 record and fell to Collinsville at the Class 4A O'Fallon Regional last season.
The Maroons lost setter Sara Stevenson to graduation. Stevenson has joined former West standout Emily Becker at William Woods University.
Senior Alyssa Lang, junior Azalya Gambrell and sophomore Sam Schell are all vying to fill Stevenson's shoes.
"We've got three girls this year that all could be starting at the setting position," Betz said. "All three of them have qualities that are desirable in a setter. Right now, it's hard to make a decision on who is going to be on the court most of the time for us."
Toni Fields, an athletic junior, returns at middle hitter. Fields came on strong in the second half of last season.
"She's an explosive player," Betz said. "She's only about 5-6, but she plays a lot taller than that. She's a real quick player, a good blocker who moves along the net real well. She has nice quick arm swing and can hit the ball from anywhere along the net. She'll be a nice offensive weapon for us."
Sophomore Sara Caponi, who Betz said has been impressive over the summer and in early practices, senior Sarah Wessel and junior Kari Gaskill are all battling for playing time as the other middle hitter.
"I'm looking for at least one of the girls in that group to play on the right side also," Betz said.
Junior Zoe Zeiter, senior Sara Owens and sophomore Kayla Juenger are the outside hitters.
"She's our go-to hitter this year," Betz said of Zeiter. "She led our team in kills last year, and she's just a junior this year so we have her for another year after this."
Senior DaLynn Martin, who saw a lot of action last year, and junior Kristina Gerlach are fighting for the job of libero.
"Both of them are really solid defensive players," Betz said. "It's going to be a tough decision deciding who is going to play libero. They'll both be on the floor a lot this year."
Betz said it's going to be important for the Maroons to limit their errors this season.
"We're going to give up points to teams because we are smaller," Betz said. "With that disadvantage, if we start giving up points on errors, that is going to hurt us. We have to play clean volleyball."
Betz picked defending champion Edwardsville as the team to beat in the Southwestern Conference once again.
"I don't know if anybody is going to be competitive with Edwardsville if they're playing the kind of volleyball they can play," Betz said.
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.