The Helias Lady Crusaders are going to look a little different this year, graduating eight seniors from last season’s roster that produced a district championship.
But even with an overhauled varsity roster, coach David Harris likes what he has seen from his team, both during the summer months and the past few weeks in the preseason.
“I was very pleased with the summer,” Harris said. “We knew were going to be young. … We don’t have a lot of players with game experience (at the varsity level), so getting them to play a lot this summer was really important.
“We still have a lot of stuff to work on, but I’ve told them several times, if we were perfect now, then there’s no need to practice.”
Helias opens its season today in the Windsor: Imperial Tournament, an eight-team tournament with two pools. The Lady Crusaders will face Union, De Soto and Mehlville in pool play, followed by a pair of bracket play matches.
“I don’t think there’s anybody at this tournament that we’ve ever played before in my 23 years here,” Harris said. “Since we’re young and a little inexperienced, it’s an opportunity to get some experience right off the bat.”
The lone returning starter for the Lady Crusaders is senior defensive specialist Izzy Herrbold, who will also be the team’s libero. She led the team with 568 digs, finishing with 11 matches of 20-plus digs.
“We don’t have a lot of returning experience, but a good place to start is Izzy,” Harris said. “She was the conference defensive player of the year, broke the school record for digs and she should have been all-state.
“Having a defensive vocal leader on the court is very important.”
Another player who returns with significant varsity experience is senior outside hitter Libby Gaines. Last year, she came off the bench and recorded 86 kills.
Hannah Hentges, a junior, will also be an outside hitter this season. Both Gaines and Hentges will be left-side hitters, along with junior Ellie Lock.
“Libby has a lot more confidence this year, which is nice to see,” Harris said. “She’s going to be a big key for us this year. Hannah is a very athletic and explosive player, she probably led the team in hitting all summer.”
Right-side hitters will be senior Mary Lloyd and junior Kendal Herzing. The middle hitters on the roster are junior Alyssa Muenks and sophomores Cora Steinlage and Claire Carel.
Senior Addisyn Bryant and junior Avery Saucier will be the two setters in Helias’ 6-2 offense. Bryant suffered an injury early last season, limiting her to just 11 sets played, and Saucier was the JV setter last season.
Sophomores Ellie Anderson and Sydney Suthoff are also on the varsity roster as setters.
“We do have a lot of depth,” Harris said of the setter position.
Sophomore Sophie Verslues, who was the JV libero last year, senior Madison Kempker and junior Lauren Schroeder will be defensive specialists.
“I think our defense is going to be really good,” Harris said. “I think we’re going to play a lot of long rallies.”
Harris said the first full week of the season is “going to be a killer” with Monday’s home opener against Camdenton, followed by Tuesday’s road match at Fatima, Wednesday’s road match at Rolla and Friday’s road matches against Nixa and Kickapoo.
“We’re throwing them into the fire,” Harris said.
Last weekend, the Lady Crusaders played in a Jamboree at St. Joseph’s Academy. Helias won two of three sets against Cor Jesu, lost two of three sets to St. Joseph’s and won all three sets against Villa Duchesne.
“We played a different lineup every single set,” Harris said. “From what I’ve seen this summer and in the Jamboree, I think we could surprise some people this fall.”
Helias won the Central Missouri Activities Conference last season, its first title in the still-young conference. Conference play for the Lady Crusaders begins Sept. 7 at Hickman.
“We didn’t have a conference for a long, long time, but now it’s a good thing,” Harris said. “You want to be conference champion, you want to be all-conference. In the long run, this is good for us.”
Helias’ other tournaments this fall are Sept. 16 at Camdenton and Oct. 7 at Lebanon.
The Lady Crusaders have been assigned to Class 4 District 5 with Camdenton, Capital City, Jefferson City, Marshfield, Rolla, Union and West Plains.