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Helias volleyball opens season today at Waynesville

With the way the summer season and preseason workouts went, it’s a good thing the players on the Helias volleyball team were already very familiar with one another.

Several factors have kept the Lady Crusaders from having everyone in the same place at the same time, but that shouldn’t cause too much concern. All of that gets corrected by the fact Helias returns nine letterwinners, plus another player with varsity experience, from a team that won districts last season.

The one time Helias had its full complement of players, the Lady Crusaders won the tournament held as part of the University of Nebraska team camp.

“We had a very successful summer,” Helias coach David Harris. “Even without having everybody, we won all our tournaments we entered.”

Because of the fluidity of their lineups all summer, Helias was able to experiment freely.

“We were able to experiment with lots of different lineups,” Harris said. “We had a very good summer working on trying to refine some things that we can hopefully employ during the season.”

That centers around two specific areas.

“Because they’re familiar with our base stuff, now we’re adding some things to where we can hopefully switch defenses on the fly if something’s not working,” Harris said. “And on offense, we can do some things where if we need to, we can move some people around because we’ve got some really versatile players who can play all three front-row positions.”

The lineup will boast just three seniors to go along with six juniors and three sophomores. And while many of them did get key playing time last year, there are two holes in the lineup that are tough to fill. Helias graduated two all-state players in setter Sidney Lammers and libero Haley Bax.

“Sidney placed second in most of our career marks for setters, and the only reason she’s not first is because she played three years and Chelsea Browner played four; and Haley Bax set a school record in digs last year, breaking the old school record by over 100, and she also has the career dig record,” Harris said. “So having to replace two players like that is tough.”

But the Lady Crusaders do have two record-setters back for their senior seasons. Middle hitter Anna Murphy, who has committed to Division I school Arkansas State, set school records in blocking last year; while setter Brittney Engelbrecht, who is expected to commit to William Woods, set a school mark for points won while she was serving.

“It’s nice to have those two as a starting point,” Harris said.

But like the summer, the lineup will be in flux to start the season as Engelbrecht will miss the first few weeks of the season due to illness.

“What we have at the very beginning is not going to be what people see at the end,” Harris said. “Our lineup will be a little different. If it’s going to happen, I’d rather have it happen now than at the end of the season.”

Filling in for Engelbrecht will be sophomore Ashley Dudenhoeffer, who is a bit undersized at 5-foot-6.

“She’s not going to be a hitter and blocker like Sidney was, but she’s very quick, she gets to every ball and is able to make a hittable set out of it, no matter where she’s at,” Harris said.

She’ll be setting to a very deep, experienced group of hitters led by the 6-foot-3 Murphy.

“We relied on her a lot last year, and not that we’re not going to rely on her this year, but we can probably have a little more balanced offense,” Harris said. “The other players have been a lot more consistent this summer. They’re more mature, they’re stronger and a little smarter.”

Those in that group include junior outside/middle hitters Erica Haslag and Molly Sandbothe and junior outside hitters Tory Wiley, Laura Schieber and Lindsey Griggs.

The defensive specialists for the team include senior Tori Keller, junior Abby Farrow and sophomores Blake Berhorst and Maddie Dunkman.

“We feel like we’ve got a very solid lineup, a solid group of kids with a lot of experience and I think people are going to see some exciting volleyball,” Harris said.

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