Bentonville West’s volleyball team may have caught some by surprise when its inaugural season was capped by a trip to the Class 7A state tournament.
While the Lady Wolverines cherished the moment at the time, it just meant the stakes were raised a little higher for the second season.
“Making it into the state tournament in our first year was good for us,” West coach Julie Rowan said. “So now, they’ve been talking about not having that sophomore slump. Last year, Everything positive was positive. Unfortunately, this year the expectation is so much higher.
“We can’t use the excuse of it’s our first year and we have no seniors. We’re just trying to put the girls in more pressure situations and allow them to have that type of intensity this year so they will be more prepared. We’ll be judged just as high as everybody else this year.”
Although everybody has returned from last year’s team, nothing is guaranteed. A group of new players, which consists of 10 sophomores and freshman Emerson Traweek, has already brought on some extra competition among the players, and that was something lacking last year when West had a limited roster.
Rowan said that brings a new set of challenges to her team, and some players who were on West’s varsity team last season will be on junior varsity squad this year.
“Things are a lot more intense because these players are vying for positions,” Rowan said. “There wasn’t a lot of competition for each spot. This year, the same girls are here and they have grown at different rates.
“Now we have four options at outside, where we had only two last year. They’ve put so much pressure on each other that it’s really fun in practice to watch them evolve. We have several that we call ‘bubble players’ and we’ve tried different combinations in our benefit match.”
Rowan said her team’s added experience will help speed up the offense and actually run offensive sets, unlike last year when Lady Wolverines were so young last year that much of the season was spent “fighting to survive.”
More will also be expected from some players such as sophomore Kortney Puckett, who led the team with 130 kills and will remain one of the team’s go-to players. The same is true for junior Kerryann Ptacek, who finished second with 120 kills last year but is expected to score “a lot more points” this season, and the freshman Traweek.
“Last year, we were looking for points out of anybody we can get,” Rowan said. “This year, we can get the ball to certain girls that we know can handle the situation. Last year, we didn’t have the players that could handle that mentally, and this year they can.
“We still have a lot of growing to do, don’t get me wrong. We’re not at the level of being able to win the conference or anything like that, but I do feel we are at the level where we can compete in matches.”
The Lady Wolverines open their season Thursday with a home match against Huntsville, then will compete in the Early Bird Invitational the following weekend. West begins 7A-West Conference play Aug. 31 at Van Buren.