WARDSVILLE, Mo. - Blair Oaks entered the 2013 volleyball season with more uncertainty than any year in recent memory.
The Lady Falcons graduated nine seniors from the 2012 squad, three freshmen were set to earn valuable playing time and underclassmen dotted a good portion of the roster.
So far, so good for the youth movement.
"I was expecting it," Blair Oaks volleyball coach Joy Northweather said following her team's 25-19, 25-16 season-opening victory against Linn on Tuesday night at the Blair Oaks gym. "This year we really don't have one go-to. ... I thought we moved the ball around really well tonight."
Freshman Paige Rackers led the Lady Falcons with five kills. Classmate Allison Maxwell tied for second on the team (with senior Maggie Hoskins) with four kills and led the team with three blocks. Sadie Turner, who completes the freshman trio, led the Lady Falcons with 12 assists.
"Both Allison and Paige are very, very capable of putting the ball away," Northweather said. "Sadie did a great job with feeding the ball to a lot of our hitters. All three of the freshmen really stepped up and did a fine job tonight."
Taylor Stockman, just a sophomore, added four kills, and Paige Stockman had three. Lizzie Rosslan added seven assists and Jessica Clark led the team with three aces.
So are opposing teams going to be surprised when these underclassmen play starring roles?
"Not a whole lot if we keep talking about it," Northweather quipped.
"As the season progress (other teams are) going to see their names, they're going to see even though we're young, we're a very well-rounded team. We have enough girls that can put the ball away that I think it will be a good season."
Blair Oaks looked like a veteran team early on, racing out to a 5-0 lead. Linn surged back to tie the game at 7.
"The speed of the game I think caught our players, even the more veteran players, off-guard," Northweather said of Linn's surge. "They're going to take some time to get in the groove and make sure we're playing at that speed all the time."
Yet Blair Oaks never fell behind. The Lady Falcons never trailed the entire match actually.
But tied at 8, a Linn mistake combined with some confusion turned the tide for Blair Oaks. Linn had subbed in a player at the libero position with Blair Oaks ahead 8-7. However, she wasn't listed as being able to play libero. Following the tying point, the referees noticed the transgression. After a short delay, the ball was given back to Blair Oaks and the Lady Falcons were awarded a 9-8 lead.
"What should have happened is because she went in the game, they never should have got that point," Northweather said. "Paige should have continued serving and we should have got that. It should have been 9-7 at that point. There was some confusion. All of us were confused. She was in the game and they didn't catch it right away."
That turned the game in Blair Oaks' favor, as the Lady Falcons opened up an 11-8 lead, never relinquished the advantage and eventually took a 23-15 lead before closing out the first game, 25-19.
Blair Oaks didn't have as much trouble in the second game, gradually building a 10-5 lead before taking off with the set. The Lady Falcons' biggest lead was at 20-9 on an ace from Clark, and they cruised to the 25-16 victory.
"They started playing with the focus that we need," Northweather said, referencing the difference in the second game. "People were getting on the floor making sure balls weren't hitting, defensively we made the adjustments I asked them to. That's the difference. I think they played with a little more aggressiveness."
Blair Oaks (1-0) is back in action Thursday at home against School of the Osage.
Blair Oaks won the JV game 25-15, 15-15. Rebecca Schroeder led the way with four kills, while Jayde Peters had six aces and eight assists. Ryan Dudenhoeffer added three kills and Kellie Fredendall had eight assists.
Blair Oaks won the freshman game 25-13. Alexa Stegeman had two kills and Sidney Bernskoetter added three assists.