CAMAS — It is not so simple being the defending league champions with even higher expectations this volleyball season.
This was going to be the Camas Papermakers’ season to return to the state tournament after a two-year absence.
The Papermakers had another year of experience, another year of coaching, and just about all of their talent set to return.
Only, some of that talent did not return. One middle blocker moved to the other side of the country. Another is injured and will not return this fall.
Suddenly, the Papermakers had to reconsider their plans.
Actually no, they did not.
They are making adjustments on the court, but not with their beliefs. The Papermakers still expect to compete for a league title, and they expect to survive the bi-district tournament, and they plan on reaching the state tournament.
All because they are in this together.
“This is the season all of us seniors get to prove who we are and leave it all out there,” said Aubrey Stanton, one of three team captains. “This is our last year playing for Camas. We want to make it the most memorable yet.”
There is still plenty of returning talent, too. Keelie LeBlanc, one of the top outside hitters in the region, is on the floor. So, too, are all-leaguers Whitney Quist and Stanton. Younger players have had to step up to fill the roles vacated by those unplanned departures.
“We still have the same goals and the same mindset,” Stanton said. “We still want to go to state. Everything stays the same.”
Camas coach Michelle Allen said she appreciates that attitude. She also is pleased with how this team is focused on important issues off the court, as well. It cannot be just about individual volleyball talent.
One thing that has changed this season, according to the captains, is a commitment from one another to make it all about the team this season. The young players making a leap to varsity, some earlier than expected, have to know they are part of something special.
“We have to make sure everyone is included,” said Maddy Pfaff, also a team captain. “We talk about everything with each other. We don’t have drama, we don’t have distractions this year.”
The Papermakers are going out to lunch together and they have a weekly dinner “to get to know each other as people,” said Quist.
Quist, also a captain, cannot say enough about the team’s new middle blockers: Mary Pipkin, a junior, Marianna Payne, a sophomore, and Kate Staddon, a freshman.
“It is really hard losing 6-foot-3 middles,” Quist acknowledged.
But a quality team makes quality adjustments and helps the newcomers.
“A lot of it is just encouraging them, and getting their confidence up,” Quist said. “They know it’s scary playing with five seniors. But you can already see their confidence boosting. They are really smart, smart on the court.”
Opponents, Quist said, are going to be “shocked” at how good they can play.
“They’re learning, and they’re learning quickly.”
The Papermakers also enjoy the fact that their injured middle is still very much part of the . squad. Courtney Clemmer is the team’s manager.
“She is the happiest person I know,” Pfaff said. “She’s always smiling. She’s quirky. It was super cool she wanted to do this. She wants to be part of our little family. We love having her.”
That family atmosphere is crucial. Some teams have it. Some do not. The Papermakers say they will need that this season in order to make it to the final tournament of the high school season.
A year ago, Camas played back-to-back five-set matches in the bi-district tourney. The Papermakers lost that last one, missing out on a trip to state by one set.
“It really does fire us up,” Quist said. “We were so close.”
Quist and Stanton talked about a faster offense this season, to throw opponents out of their system.
Another key is conditioning. The Papermakers want to be strong in any five-set matches.
The Papermakers opened this season with a win over Ridgefield, a team that placed in the Class 2A state tournament last year. Camas also won a Saturday tournament in Oregon. They did fall to 3A GSHL power Prairie.
So no, do not expect Camas to breeze through 4A GSHL play and cruise past bi-district to state.
It is a work in progress for the Papermakers.
Last November, the Papermakers just knew, with all their experience coming back, that 2017 was going to be the year to get to state.
Even with the big changes this offseason, that can still be true.