The Woodland Warriors proved to be a dangerous — if streaky — volleyball team through the course of the 2017 season, finishing 12-14 with a strong flourish late in the year.

Second-year WHS head coach Ginger Walter is hoping with 10 returners back, including key components of both the offense and the defense, the 2018 Warriors will pick up right where they left off even after the graduation of last year’s most potent offensive weapon, Bella Estes.

“Things have been going real well,” Walter said. “We started on (Aug.) 8th, and we have 25 girls total. That’s really huge for Woodland — it’s been a long time since we’ve had these numbers — and 15 of them will dress for varsity and are ready to compete.”

Any conversation of this year’s Warriors squad has to begin with the aforementioned 10 returning letterwinners, a group led by the likes of senior setter Ally Ruff, 12th-grade outside hitter Lindsay Benner, senior defensive specialist Jasmine Easton, junior setter Taylee Keen (Times All-Area Honorable Mention last season) and 11th-grade defensive specialists Lexi Chambers and Kaitlyn Walter (Times All-Area Third Team last fall).

Bolstered by fellow returnees such as juniors Abby Essman on the outside and middles Mikayla Connor and Mary Smith along with sophomore middle Audrey Jenkins, the Warriors have more than their fair share of varsity experience to help bring along newcomers such as senior outside Shawnee Porter, junior defensive specialists Makenna Tkach and Jaleigh Benstine, 11th-grade outside Stephanie Johnson, versatile junior utility player Olivia Arroyo and freshman middle/outside hitter Ella Sibert.

Even without a couple of their top hitters from last season, Coach Walter has designs on this year’s Warriors being a somewhat more balanced team after reclaiming the program’s long-held identity as a scrappy defensive squad in 2017.

“Obviously, Bella definitely left big shoes to fill,” WHS’s coach said, “but surprisingly in practice we’ve found some pretty solid replacements with Audrey Jenkins and Mary Smith, as well as Ella Sibert and Mikayla Connor. They’re doing great.

“We were definitely known as a defensive team last year. We’re hoping to switch that up this year and have more of a balance.

“Our expectations are to have a better record than last year. We really want to get to that 20-win mark. … We just want them to focus, keep swinging and have faith in that swing, and be just as good on offense as we’ve been on defense.

“If we can do that, we’ll have a great season.”

Woodland opens its 2018 season Monday with a crosstown visit to Streator High.

SCHEDULE

Date Opponent/Event Time

8/20 at Streator 6 p.m.

8/21 FLANAGAN-CORNELL 6:30 p.m.

8/23 at LaMoille-Ohio 6:30 p.m.

8/25 at Livingston Co. Invite TBA

8/28 LELAND 6:30 p.m.

8/30 GARDNER-S. WILM. 6:30 p.m.

9/4 at Serena 6:30 p.m.

9/6 at Marquette 7 p.m.

9/11 at DePue 7 p.m.

9/13 HENRY-SENACH. 6:30 p.m.

9/15 at Fieldcrest Knight Invite TBD

9/18 at Dwight 6:30 p.m.

9/20 LOWPOINT-WASH. 6:30 p.m.

9/25 at Midland 7 p.m.

9/27 at Seneca 7 p.m.

10/1 at Earlville 6:30 p.m.

10/4 ROANOKE-BENSON 6:30 p.m.

10/6-11 at Tri-Co. Tourney (Henry) TBD

10/16 PEORIA CHRISTIAN 6:30 p.m.

10/18 at Putnam Co. 7 p.m.

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