Rather than focus on the loss of seven seniors, including Belleville News-Democrat Player of the Year Maddie Timmermann, Central High volleyball coach Jim Cook is already miles down the road.
"We're really going to have to play totally as a team this year," said Cook, whose 36-6 squad finished third at the Class 3A state tournament. "We have no one person that can take over a game like we used to have."
Central opens the season Sept. 2 at Althoff.
Cook likes to use the early portion of the season to see what he has, then makes adjustments with personnel that in the past have led to regional and sectional titles and state tournament trips.
Since 1996, the Cougars have won three state titles under Cook (1996, 2005 and 2007). They also finished second in 2006 and 2010 and third in 1999, 2011 and 2013.
"The kids that were juniors last year didn't get much time on the floor," Cook said. "This is going to be a season where I have to get these kids on the floor and watch them play. We're going to go through some growing pains, especially early, and we'll see how it turns out."
Timmermann is now at Division II Maryville University and her 419 kills and 192 blocks will be missed. The Cougars also lost Makenzie Jackson to Benedictine-Springfield, Lauren Willis to Kaskaskia and Lydia Rehkemper, Taylor Rakers and Maisie Kampwerth to Southwestern Illinois College.
Former Central volleyball and basketball standout Torre Kohrmann is playing basketball at Lindenwood-Belleville.
The top returning starters are 6-foot-1 junior Kendra Wilken, moving from right side to middle hitter, and senior libero and inspirational team leader Sophie Rickhoff.
Cook said while Wilken is a top-flight basketball recruit, she remains a force in volleyball as well.
"Kendra's game has improved steadily through the years," he said. "I'm really happy about that. I know that she's a good basketball player and she could have spent all that time working on her basketball skills.
"She does a great job of blocking and she's learning all the hits and quick hits, slide-outs, swing-outs, different things like that."
Junior Alicia Book will be working in the middle while the outside hitters are seniors Jenna Dumstorff and Maddi Lewis. Senior Alyssa Koch is at right-side hitter with senior Natalie Kennett and junior Paetyn Albers as the setters.
Junior Emily Detmer is a defensive specialist.
"Most of the kids, other than the middles, can play all the way around," Cook said. "I think Natalie Kennett will bring a lot. She's an excellent setter and a very good net players as well. She's got some size and some good jumping ability."
Cook also likes the potential of his senior outside hitters.
"They're not as big, but they can still hit the ball pretty strong and move the ball where they want to," he said.