CLOVERDALE -- As the Cloverdale volleyball season opens its 2008 campaign this evening, it probably has as much reason for confidence as any team in the area.
While the Clovers graduated a strong senior class from last year's sectional championship squad, they also return seven seniors for this year.
With a couple of good years behind them and eight returning lettermen, Clover coach Kathy Moore wants to see big things out of this year's team.
"I have lots of expectations," she said with a laugh. "We really want to do well in the conference. We also really hope to do well in our county tournament again this year.
"When it comes to sectional time, that's like a whole other season," she continued. "We'll tackle that when we get there. I feel like we're still the team to beat, but that's the way it is. Like I've always said, it's one game at a time when you get to sectional. We want to shoot for those three things right now and to improve our defense."
But it will all hinge on those returnees. Kayla Shepherd, Kristin McCammon, Maria Skiles, Allie Franklin, Whitney Bond, Alesha Evans and Elizabeth Cheatham all return for the Clovers as seniors. Kaileigh Sparks also lettered as a sophomore and is the only junior with a letter.
With such a large group of experienced players, the coach has the luxury of doing some experimentation with lineups and positions.
"I feel like our returning lettermen are good with all skills, so I'm going to be moving people around and trying them in different positions," Moore said.
The difference in this year's team and the last two will be the lack of a dominant player up front. The Clovers look to make up for this in other ways, though.
"The girls are working hard. One of the keys to our success this year will be playing a good defense," Moore said. "We don't have a real dominant hitter like we've had the last two years. We had (Hannah) Monnett and then (Ashley) Koosman. We don't have that, but I do feel that we have good balance all the way across our front row. I think we'll make up for that with the balance."
The team also has a pair of good setters who have the right attitude not only to split time, but also to deal with a thankless job.
"I have two really good returning setters in Sparks and Skiles," Moore said. "They both have good sets of hands. They're both quick and knowledgeable of the game. They have the right attitude to be a setter. It's not easy to be a setter; they get blamed for everything."
At this point, Moore looks back on her time as Clover coach and is thankful for a couple of years of success. She hopes to continue that this year.
"I feel really blessed the last two years," she said. "We've come up with a sectional championship. After 20-some years its nice to have that kind of success is great. It gives the program a lot of confidence and higher expectations."
With those higher expectations also comes the need to plan for the future. While Moore will lean on her returning lettermen, she knows she needs to get the rest of the varsity into the mix.
"When you have eight returning lettermen, you have a good, solid core," she said. "Then we'll try to get our other people in there to get some experience because when you graduate seven, you end up with a tough situation."
"My core group will be getting a lot of playing time and then my others will be getting some playing time, accordingly," she continued.
The Clovers open their season at 6 p.m. today when they host Cascade.