BREESE — The Central Cougars are so loaded with experience that even coach Jim Cook can't downplay their prospects for success this volleyball season.
The Cougars return the majority of a squad that advanced to the championship match of the Class 3A Mater Dei Regional before falling 25-13, 25-19 to the arch-rival Knights.
"People always say that I say, 'We're never going to win,' but I haven't said that this year,'' Cook said. "This team has the experience and everything is looking like we should be able to handle ourselves even coming out of the gate.''
The Cougars open the 2013 season against Althoff on Tuesday at Central High School.
Central has been notoriously slow starters in recent years, but Cook would like to see his team break out of the gate a little quicker this season.
"We started off pretty poorly last year and we ended up well,'' said Cook, whose team finished 22-10 in 2012 after starting off 4-7. "I am kind of reserved about how we are going to start this year. I would like to see a little faster start, but the thing that really matters is how you end up the season and what you do in the playoffs.''
The Cougars bring back 5-foot-10 senior middle hitter Maddie Timmermann, who had a team-leading 367 kills last season.
Timmermann is capable of taking over a match.
"When she gets on, she can,'' Cook said. "She can handle front row and back row duties. She just has to stay very focused this season and not let the recruiting year get into her mind too much.
"I'm sure she will. This is her fourth year. She is very experienced with what she is doing.''
Cook said Illinois State is among the colleges recruiting Timmermann.
Senior Taylor Rakers' quickness and skill on defense coerced Cook into using a libero for the first time last year.
"I have an excellent defensive player in Taylor Rakers, and I have finally accepted the idea of playing a libero and letting her do her thing. And, she's great at it,'' Cook said.
Sophomore Kendra Wilken, who played middle hitter last year, will slide over to right-side hitter and senior Maisie Kampwerth, who was hindered by back trouble last year, will be manning the middle.
"Maisie has come back strong, her back is stronger, and she has the experience over the years to be a middle hitter,'' Cook said. "We're putting Kendra over on the right side. We're doing that to really shore up our blocking against their left side and middle hitters.''
Getting better at blocking has been a point of emphasis for Cook during the preseason.
"We've really worked this year again on blocking,'' Cook said. "Other coaches say that we do block well, but I don't feel like we do. Maddie actually chimed in when I brought it up at practice the other day and said that she didn't think we blocked very well in games either. Other coaches think we do.
"Maybe I'm too demanding about what we do, but I feel there are some easy balls we let go. I think some of the problem areas are being corrected.''
Returning senior setter Torre Kohrmann brings leadership in addition to playing a pivotal position.
"You look for your setters to be your leaders,'' Cook said. "She has a tremendous knowledge of the game and she knows where to put her sets. She is so smart about this game that it's good to have her out there all the time.''
Senior Lauren Willis will play setter when Kohrmann rotates into the front row.
Kohrmann and Willis will be backed up by junior Natalie Kennett, who was sidelined last season with a broken finger.
"Natalie is a good jumper and she grew a couple of inches over the summer,'' Cook said. "She's about 5-9 now. She's only a junior, so you'll see her a little bit this season and next season she'll stay in all the way around.''
Senior Lydia Rehkemper returns at outside hitter. Senior Makenzie Jackson and junior Maddie Lewis also will be in the mix on the left side.
Junior Sophie Rickhoff will be used as a defensive specialist. A setter by trade, Rickhoff could slide into the libero position next year after Rakers graduates.
Cook said the key for the Cougars this season is consistency.
"We have to be more consistent than we were last year,'' Cook said. "More consistent in our serves, more consistent in our hits. We have to play smarter and we have to take games at people.''
Contact reporter Steve Korte at email@example.com or 239-2522.