This could be the year the Mascoutah Indians volleyball program takes things to a new level.
Area coaches voted the Indians third behind Mater Dei and Edwardsville in the Belleville News-Democrat Preseason Class 3A-4A rankings, a strong show of support that brings high expectations.
“We’ve got a good group of kids and we’re going to be competitive,” said Mascoutah coach Todd Gober, who returns numerous starters and some elite talent from a 29-6 squad that lost to Columbia in a Class 3A regional final. “We’re going to play an exciting style of volleyball, but we haven’t won anything yet. We haven’t won a sectional yet.
“All this preseason stuff is great, but we need to start producing. We’ve been moving in the right direction as a program and now I’ve got kids that are very experienced. They’re hungry and they want to try to get to that next level.”
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Mascoutah has won numerous volleyball regional titles, but the Indians’ only sectional titles came in 1977 and 1981.
With longtime 3A state powerhouse Mater Dei moved to 4A, could this be the year the Indians make a long playoff run?
Ironically, Mascoutah’s season opener is Aug. 27 at home against the Mater Dei Knights.
Mater Dei handed Mascoutah two of its six losses last season, with Columbia also beating the Indians twice.
“Mater Dei is very poised to compete at the 4A level, they’ve got a very strong tradition and they’re going to do fine,” Gober said. “Mater Dei was a huge obstacle for a lot of our area 3A schools to try to get to the super-sectional. For us, Waterloo, Columbia, Highland, Central ... it kind of opens things up a little bit.
“The path has definitely been through Mater Dei, though Columbia was able to (beat Mater Dei in the playoffs) a couple years ago.”
Mascoutah lost three talented starters in Liza Gober, now at Kentucky Wesleyan, Ali Amici (John A. Logan College) and Mikayla Weber (Kaskaskia College).
But the Indians return one of the region’s top outside hitters in 6-foot senior Murray State recruit Megan Lindsay. Gober refers to his star hitter as “a hammer” after she put down 211 kills and registered 49 blocks last season along with 37 service aces.
“She’s one of those kids that can terminate the ball,” Gober said. “People are going to have to beat her at the net. A lot of players can hit and be able to be dug, but Megan is a hammer. She’s a very physical player.”
Also back is senior four-year starter Amanda Jung, a 6-foot right side hitter who committed to Division II Southern Indiana. Jung led the Indians with 94 blocks last season and also had 103 kills.
Sophomore Tieghan Morio (72 kills, 51 blocks) is moving from the right side to outside hitter. Junior middle blocker Lacey Albers (67 kills, 70 blocks) also returns along with both starting setters, senior Maddy Nekola and junior Kamrynn Voypick.
Nekola and Voypick each averaged more than five assists per match in 2014.
Senior right side/middle Paige Weiss also saw extensive action while Gober is predicting big things for 6-foot-junior middle blocker Katirah Johnson.
One of the few unsettled spots is libero, where Gober is taking a look at junior Nilah Roy, a former outside hitter, sophomore Sydney Waeltz and freshman Molly Cravens.
“We’re fortunate,” Gober said. “Our entire starting lineup are experienced club (team) kids and they’ve been playing high level club. I should probably send a thank you card to all the area club coaches for doing such a good job training these kids and making my job easier.
“We’ve got a very good level of talent, we’ve got experience and we’ve got size. We’re sitting with 6-footers almost across the front row.”