Graduation losses are inevitable in high-school sports.
Most pale in comparison to what the Blair Oaks Lady Falcons are dealing with heading into today's season opener at home against Linn.
"It was a very intimidating process just to try to look at who I'm going to fill in where," Blair Oaks volleyball coach Joy Northweather said, referencing the nine seniors that graduated from the 2012 team that went 24-4-1. "I can't say that at this point we've replaced them, but we're a new team and a different team. Roles have been filled.
"We'll miss them a lot, and there's no way around that. You can't have nine girls on your varsity squad, quite a few who played varsity for two or three years, and think that we're not going to miss them. We're excited for this year. We see a lot of really good things."
While the Lady Falcons will feature a bevy of varsity neophytes, the expectations haven't changed a bit.
"It has the potential to be very successful," Northweather said of her squad. "We've been successful the the last couple years, and that's what we look for every year. This team I have very high expectations for.
"Of course our goal is to win conference again. It would be a three-peat. September's going to be a telling month on how we do with that. With our history, people are going to look for us to come in strong this year. They are going to be looking to come after us. Even with the new faces."
New faces aside, Blair Oaks is blessed with three seniors who played big roles on the varsity squad last season - outside hitter Paige Stockman, middle hitter Maggie Hoskins and libero Jessica Clark.
"They better step up," Northweather said. "When you have a young squad and you have girls ranging from just having turned 14 to over 18, you have to look to the other girls for that emotional leadership, that poise. Keeping the team up when they need to be up, make sure we don't let other teams get in our head at all. That's going to be huge. They've been there, they know what it takes."
Northweather has liked what she's seen from those three seniors. She's also liked what the younger girls have to offer.
Those other girls - a junior (setter Lizzie Roslan), two sophomores (Taylor Stockman and Madison Abbott) and three freshmen (Allison Maxwell, Paige Rackers and Sadie Turner) - will likely round out the top nine in some fashion.
"First group on the floor is probably going to change depending on who we are playing," Northweather said.
No matter who is on the court, Northweather is confident her young team will be able to compete night in, night out.
"I think we will surprise some people," she said. "It's going to be a matter of keeping our poise, making sure we're doing what it takes every game, every practice to make sure that we're gaining that experience that we need down the road for the end of October."
That's right about when district play starts. Blair Oaks, which has fallen to Fatima in the district championship the past two seasons, is paired with the Lady Comets again. Fatima is the defending Class 2 state champion.
"Obviously they are going to be the team to beat," Northweather said. "That whole month is going to push us and get us some good opportunities against some really solid teams. I'm pretty pleased with our schedule."
Before the Lady Falcons can worry about any of that, though, they start tonight against Linn, a team they beat 25-16, 25-17 to open up the 2012 season on the road.
"I'm hoping that the Jamboree got some nerves out," Northweather said, referencing last Monday's first-ever volleyball Jamboree for Blair Oaks, where the Lady Falcons took on Hickman, St. Paul Lutheran and Sedalia Sacred Heart in Columbia. "People taking control of the game from the very beginning, making sure that we are attacking. I always like to run an aggressive offense. That's what I'm hoping to see.
"I see a lot of opportunities to control the net with our height and jumping ability that we have. I see us being very strong at the net if we play our game."