West Branch seniors Claire Bridges, DaLana Kron and Abby Knoop. By Ryan Murken
Your Prep Sports
WEST BRANCH – After serving as an assistant coach at West Branch the past two seasons John Walsh is well aware who is missing from last year’s state semifinal squad.
Gone from the most success team in school history are 12 seniors including five starters and the team leader in kills, assists and blocks.
Walsh is mindful of the perception those departures have created for this year’s team. The Bear’s first-year head coach just isn’t buying it.
“Last season we had a really strong senior group and I think a lot of teams might be excited that we lost a big crew and think that we are going to be a weak team this year because of it,” Walsh said. “I know that we have good young players that have been trained well and they are going to step into those varsity roles and perform and I’m excited to see what they can do.”
There is no denying the heavy losses from last year’s team that won 36 games including the program’s first state tournament win.
All-state pick Hailey Poula, top blocker Bailey Lukavsky and setter Trystin Luneckas are among 12 graduated seniors.
Head coach Josh Lukavsky stepped away after leading the Bears to the state tournament three times in the past four seasons.
Everyone sees the losses.
What only those within the West Branch program have seen is the talent waiting behind those players.
“A lot of people are saying we have been hit hard by graduation which is true but we have so much potential, I wouldn’t look past us,” West Branch senior Abby Knoop said. “The young kids are really stepping up I have no doubt that we can get back to state if we put our minds to it and work hard every day.”
Knoop knows what it takes to get to the state tournament.
She finished second on the team with 261 kills last year and had a team-high 321 digs as West Branch went 36-6 including a win over Wapsie Valley in the Class 2A state quarterfinals.
Knoop joins senior DaLana Kron as the lone returning starters from last year’s team.
Senior Claire Bridges who played in nine sets last year, is the only other varsity player back from last year.
“We are only inexperienced in a sense that people haven’t played varsity,” Kron said. “Everyone is definitely super talented and super experienced in the game of volleyball.”
Bridges, Kron and Knoop give West Branch a solid core of returning players.
That trio of seniors say there is plenty of talent coming up to keep the Bears atop the River Valley Conference.
“I think we have a lot of talent that people just haven’t seen and haven’t had the opportunity to see,” Bridges said. “I think people are going to be surprised.”
West Branch has already shown early this season it isn’t going anywhere.
The Bears went 4-1 at their own season-opening invitational winning eight straight sets before falling to Regina in the title game.
Built around Knoop, one of the top hitters in the RVC, West Branch is thinking about another postseason run.
“We have a really high upside with this group,” Walsh said. “We only have 11 players on varsity right now but we have some very talented players and I think that our biggest challenge is just going to be is getting them to gel and play as on unit because the talent is there. We are going to be a handful for any team that plays us.”