Defending state 1A champions will be a force in 2A GNL

One of strongest-ever CHS teamsIf Colville High were slotted where it belonged, back in the Northeast A League, the Indians would certainly be favorites to successfully defend the 1A championship they won last November in Yakima. That said, the Indians, who return to the Class 2A Great Northern League this fall for a two-season run, will be a force to contend with in their old league. Under longtime coach Missy Bennett, entering her 27th season at the helm, Colville was always a power in the GNL.With the strong nucleus returning from last year’s memorable campaign, pencil the Indians in as one of the best at 2A and a strong contender for a GNL title.‘A 1A school masquerading as a 2A school.’There are plenty of reasons for optimism, 2A or no 2A. For one thing, Bennett has never had four seniors who will play college volleyball.“We are actually a 1A school masquerading as a 2A school,” Bennett said during a practice session last week, tongue firmly planted in cheek. The team motto this year is “New Year, New Team…Same Dream.”“Wherever we are playing, I want this team to enjoy that dream,” Bennett said during a recent practice session.“It is such a fine line between getting first and getting second (Bennett’s teams have finished second in the state on two occasions)…the (state tournament) draw is important. You have to be playing well at the right time…there are a lot of variables. But we certainly have the skill and talent with this group.”A lot can happen between now and November, but West Valley of Yakima would seem to be the odds-on, if not prohibitive, favorite to win the 2A state championship. WV/Yakima is the defending 3A champion. They have dropped down to 2A.How convenient for them. “That’s a school of 1,100 playing a school of about 500,” Bennett said of a match-up between the two volleyball powers. “But we are excited for the challenge. We can certainly compete at the 2A level—we always have. “And this is the best 2A team that I have ever coached.”The 2012 edition of CHS volleyball may be the best team Bennett has ever coached. The one that would compete there is the 2011 team.Bennett admitted that the NEA League was a “good fit” for her Indians because it was a challenging Class A league with plenty of competition and challenges.Plenty of talent—and chips to go around“And we were competing against schools closer to our own size,” she said. “But we are a very good volleyball team no matter where they put us. We don’t mind having a chip on our shoulders and playing up.”It is what it is and you control what you can control. (Enrollment) numbers games are out of Bennett’s control. The immediate team goal is to find a way to win the GNL and go unbeaten. That will be a challenge with the likes of West Valley, East Valley, Cheney and Pullman all fielding solid teams.THIS WEEKColville hosted its annual Jamboree on Tuesday. In the field were fellow GNL member Deer Park, defending 2B state champion Reardan and Mt. Sentinel of Nelson, B.C.The Indians will open the season at the Lakeland (Rathdrum, Idaho) Invitational on Saturday. Action starts at 9 a.m.AT A GLANCEThe CHS varsity for 2012.Seniors—Joellee Bucker, 5-10, right side. One of the most dynamic volleyball players in Colville High history. The third year varsity performer is the returning 1A State Player of the Year. Bucker is a two-time All-NEA pick and one of the school’s most decorated players. “She has the ability to take over games and end another team’s dreams,” Bennett said of Buckner. Leanna Carr, 5-5 setter. The fourth year varsity player for Bennett is a three-time All-NEA selection and was a member of last year’s 1A All-State team. One of the best setters Bennett has ever coached. “She is a great leader and role model…a great competitor. I really love how much she hates to lose,” her coach says. “She has a great feel for the game and knows when to set who at what time.”Jessie Glidewell, 5-10 outside/middle. Was instrumental in helping the Indians to the State 1A title last November. “She really took over that match against King’s and really got us going,” Bennett said. Has always done things technically “correct…she has always been committed to that.” Is getting stronger physically and should come into her own this season. “I think her best volleyball is ahead of her,” Bennett says of Glidewell.Jacy Vining, 5-6, outside hitter. One of the most passionate volleyball players Bennett says she has ever coached. “I love her energy and her enthusiasm. She is a ray of sunshine—upbeat, intense, cheering on her teammates…doing everything a coach wants to see.” An All-NEA pick the last two seasons and a member of the All-State 1A team. Juniors—Tyra Brons, 5-6, outside hitter. In her first year full-time on the varsity, Brons is very competitive and “isn’t happy at all when somebody beats her with a ball,” Bennett says. “A very joyful player and getting more solid with her backcourt play.” Will come off the bench for the Indians and provide valuable depth.Aubrey Buckner, 5-10, middle hitter. Has improved considerably during the off-season, according to her coach. “Her confidence and her footwork have really gotten better,” Bennett said of Buckner. “She is very athletic and has a lot of volleyball experience like most of our other players. This is finally her time to shine.”Sadie Learn, 5-9, outside/middle hitter. Extremely talented athlete who is playing a new position for the Indians this fall. Very competitive and intense, but a player “who brings a lot of smiles and levity to the team,” Bennett says. “She is a fun teammate and a very good volleyball player.” Very nurturing of younger players and a key component on this year’s team. “I think Sadie will be a great leader for us…I think she is way better than she thinks she is,” Bennett says, adding that Learn “is an awesome passer and somebody we need to make sure stays on the floor.”Chantel Nussbaum, 5-10 middle. This first year varsity player is much improved over last season, according to Bennett. “The off-season really helped her.” An athlete who is also a very intelligent player. “We are working on her confidence level,” Bennett says. “When she plays confidently, she takes her game to another level.”Jessi Wittmeyer, 5-3 Libero. First year varsity player “who has been doing amazingly well in the back row,” Bennett says. A very quick player who can get to the tough balls.Competing for “Swing” positions are junior setter Hannah Smith (5-3) and Hannah Green, a 5-6 outside hitter. Sophomores include 5-9 middle Gabby Broden; 5-9 middle Taylor Little and 5-10 sophomore middle Abby Lembcke.Returning assistant coaches are Anne Cecil and Michawn Vining. Bennett, in the twilight of an outstanding career, says she has always appreciated the ride and what it means to be part of the legacy that is CHS volleyball. It has taken a village and the ‘Ville to raise and nurture a programIt may be hackneyed cliché, she says, but it does take a village or in this case, the ‘Ville, to raise and nurture a volleyball team.“I may be the name behind the program,” Bennett concedes. “But CHS volleyball isn’t me…it’s all the people who have created it. “All I do is work the X’s and the O’s.”Bennett has always appreciated the support she has received from parents, administration and the community of Colville, which has been the home of successful high school volleyball for over four decades.“I get so much support from the parents and all they do to make sure their kids are doing what they need to do. There are the parents who organize the dinners, get the kids to lifting sessions in the summer…who organize behind the scenes…run the (AAU) programs, work as volunteer coaches...organize the fund-raisers and then there are the local residents and businesses who support our program.“There are so many people who are a big part of this. There are people coaching (volleyball) who don’t even have kids in the program…the coaches from the 12-year-olds to the high school seniors.“And I have benefitted from some great assistant coaches over the years.”Bennett knows that not every community or school district would support all that it takes to be as successful as Colville’s volleyball program has been over the years.“The administrative support for us being able to push these kids this hard—you don’t see that everywhere,” she says. “The people in Colville allow me to push their kids to a high level. I appreciate that. This has been a great place to coach.“Yes, the village has raised this program.”