Blair Oaks eyes postseason trophy

The Blair Oaks volleyball team is tired of finishing second in the district tournament.

And while the Lady Falcons are moving up to Class 3 this season, they’re hungrier than ever to come out of a new district with a first-place trophy.

“There’s not a team entering the district that wants to have a year-after-year repeat of getting second place,” Blair Oaks head coach Joy Northweather said last week. “We’re going to go out and do everything we can to grab the district title this year.

“That has to be your goal. That’s what we’re competing for.”

The Lady Falcons went 28-4 last year before falling to Fatima in the championship game of the Class 2 District 7 tournament for the third straight year.

“It has made us hungry every year,” Northweather said. “You’ve got to have the feeling that this is the year. We want the district title back and our players are going to work hard for it.”

Blair Oaks won’t play Fatima in the postseason again, but the Lady Falcons new district assignment isn’t exactly an easy one.

That hasn’t changed their approach as the season kicks off at 6 p.m. today with a game at Linn.

“Every time we walk on to the floor, I expect us to put forth 100 percent effort,” Northweather said. “I expect the girls to have the confidence and have the expectation of winning every time we walk out on the court. I expect them to work as a team and work as one unit to the best of our ability.

“We’re not going to achieve the goals that we’re setting for ourselves without doing those things.”

Blair Oaks will now be part of District 12 in Class 3, joining California, Helias, School of the Osage and Versailles — all teams the Lady Falcons will get a chance to see during the regular season.

“It’s going to provide some really strong competition, but we have the ability to compete with everybody that we play,” Northweather said. “We’ve got some big guns. When they’re gelling as a team — they’re a team to be reckoned with.”

Blair Oaks may have some big holes to fill this season, but the Lady Falcons aren’t exactly inexperienced.

Blair Oaks graduated three key starters in Paige Stockman, Maggie Hoskins and Jessica Clark from last year team. Stockman holds the school record for most career kills, while Clark holds the single-season and career record for digs.

But the Lady Falcons also return senior setter Lizzie Rosslan, sophomore setter Sadie Turner, junior outside hitter Madison Abbott, junior outside hitter Taylor Stockman, and sophomore outside hitter Paige Rackers.

Alison Maxwell, a sophomore middle blocker, is also back, while senior libero Shelbi Koelling is expected to see significant playing time this season.

Sophomores Ryan Dudenhoeffer, Rebecca Schroeder, Alexa Stegemann, Lanie Berhorst and Kellie Fredendall are also in the mix for the Lady Falcons.

“We have a lot more varsity returning experience this year,” Northweather said. “We’re probably starting out a little more comfortable. Definitely the girls that played varsity last year as freshmen and sophomores are showing that they’ve played it before.

“That’s huge. They have that year of experience and they have a good idea of what to expect.”

Last season Rosslan led the team with 340 assists, while adding 56 digs and 31 aces. Turner was close behind, finishing with 246 assists and 53 digs as a freshman.

Abbott returns to the right side after recording 26 kills, while Stockman will also patrol the right side after tallying 61 kills as a sophomore.

As a freshman last season, Rackers finished with 95 kills, 71 digs and was second on the team with 42 aces. The sophomore underwent surgery in late July after tearing her meniscus, but is expected to be back by early september.

A strong force in the middle, Maxwell finished with 58.5 blocks, 113 kills and recorded 30 aces.

“When we’re clicking, I would say we’re one of the strongest blocking and hitting teams that I’ve coached,” Northweather said. “I have very high expectations for these girls.”

Due to storm damage that occurred in July at the high-school gym, Blair Oaks will play its first home game and its last home game at the middle school, while all other home matches will be held at Lincoln University’s Jason Gym.

The Lady Falcons have spent time practicing at both facilities in an attempt to get familiar with the surroundings and different court markings.

“It’s just going to be different,” Northweather said. “Would I use it as an excuse for how we perform? No, because I don’t believe in finding excuses, I believe in finding answers.

“Playing at Lincoln instead of our home gym will offer an opportunity to these girls that no other Blair Oaks team has experienced.”

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