The Belleville West Maroons didn’t panic last year when it was learned that one of their top offensive players, Katherine Koch, would miss the season with a torn ACL.
The injury, in fact, may have brought the team together and made it stronger. Led by a talented group of underclassmen, the Maroons rebounded from the early injury to finish with a 19-16 record and a fourth place finish in the Southwestern Conference.
This fall, sixth-year head coach Lauren DeGirolamo is hoping to build on the success.
“We have a good group coming back. Girls that had success last season and were able to carry that on with their club teams,’’ DeGirolamo said. “It’s a good and fun group of girls to be around and to coach.
“I’m thinking we’ll have another good year. Hopefully we can get a few more W’s and maybe win a tournament.”
West, which opens its season on Aug. 27 when it hosts Mascoutah, return all-SWC setter Maddie Missey and junior setter Kylie Gagen back to lead the offense.
A two-year starter, Missey finished the 2018 season with 400 assists and 138 digs, while Gagen contributed 295 assists and 108 digs.
Senior outside hitter Sarah Glaeser (114 kills, 197 digs) and junior outside hitter Kayitie Kossina (195 kills, 223 digs) also return and will be counted on for both offense and defense.
Middle hitter Sydney Vokes (101) kills) and libero Maggie Muskopf also return with experience.
“It’s hard to judge this early, but a lot of these girls have played volleyball together here at West and so they know each other,’’ DeGirolamo said. “But it’s the same type of player. These girls are hard -working and they want to be successful.
“They also listen to what you are telling them and they try to put those things into their games. We’re going to come out every match and do our best. The goal is to keep progressing as the season goes on here.’’
The one thing the Maroons don’t have is size. DeGirolamo said that across the board, West players are in the 5-8 to 5-10 range.
“We don’t have a lot of size again. I’m hoping we’ll be a tenacious defensive team and one that serve well and returns well in order to take opposing teams out of their games,’’ DeGirolamo said. “We do have a number of good, quick athletes on this team.’’
DeGirolamo thinks Edwardsville and O’Fallon will be the teams to beat in the SWC.
“I think the Southwestern Conference is one of the best around,’’ DeGirolamo said. “Edwardsville and O’Fallon have been the top programs for a few years now, Collinsville is a program on the rise, Belleville East is always competitive and East St. Louis always has athletes.
“You just have to be ready to play every night you take the court.’’