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By Dan Rudy 

Wolves readying for volleyball, wrestling seasons

 

Dan Rudy/ Wrangell Sentinel

The 2014 lineup of the Wrangell High School Wolves volleyball team pause from practice for a start-of-season photo with assistant coach Lisa Nikodym (front left) and coach Jessica Whitaker (front right). Their first games will be an invitation-only round-robin tournament in Juneau on Oct. 10.

Students at Wrangell High School are lacing their trainers as the new wrestling and volleyball seasons started Monday.

It's already looking to be a big season for the school's sports program, with the girls cross-country team heading to State after taking first at last weekend's Region V in Ketchikan, and Wrangell hosting this year's Region V wrestling tournament Dec. 5 and 6.

"We're going to have a lot of people coming," said Jack Carney, Wrangell High School's new athletic coordinator. He took over the program this summer from Monty Buness, the recently retired, long-serving principal and head of the athletic department for eight years.

"I really hit the ground running," Carney said. "It's been a lot of work, but I'm really enjoying myself. The coaches have been great to work for," and he looks forward to a challenging new year.

Volleyball coach Jessica Whitaker is looking forward to a new year as well. Her Wolves took third at the regional tournament last year, behind Klawock and Craig.

"We're always shooting for the star," said Whitaker, adding that she has high expectations this year that the girls will do well.

As of Tuesday, 20 girls were signed up for the team. Five are returning varsity players, with nine incoming freshmen.

Coming in to a new season, Whitaker likens her role to putting together a puzzle. "It's refitting those pieces that you've lost," she explained. The Wolves' star setter for a number of years, Erica Smith, graduated last year.

The coach said her replacement will have to work hard. "We have a pretty good idea" who it will be, though she did not elaborate any further.

The team will have its first game on Oct. 10 at the Juneau Invitational Volleyball Extravaganza, where the girls will get to play a round-robin with teams from other levels of competition.

"It'll be a good experience for them," Whitaker said. It will also give them a chance to play the Petersburg team, which will be moving back to 2A next year.

"We'll be able to have our rivals back in the same league as us," she said, explaining that it's a fun competition between the two schools.

The quickly approaching date for the invitational gives players little time to get in the 10 practices they need to have beforehand. Whitaker said her team will be practicing every day until then, but afterward should be back to a Monday-to-Friday schedule.

"It's going to be a rebuilding year," she predicted. "It will be interesting to see how the girls do."

The wrestling program also started hitting the mats Monday.

"We're looking pretty tough," said Wrangell's wrestling coach, Jeffrey Rooney. Despite some recovering injuries, he said the team will be coming in strongly from last year's season. "We finished well," he explained, with five wrestlers making it to the state finals.

Many of those seasoned players will return this year, along with some new faces to bring the team up to eleven. Of the 15 different weight classes, the Wolves cover 10.

"They have some pretty tough wrestlers," Carney agreed. He explained there are two big developments for wrestling this year. Raising the competition a bit, 4A schools in Juneau and Ketchikan will compete with 1A-3A schools.

And for the first time, girls across the state may have their own regional and state tournament this year. Wrangell already has one such wrestler competing this year, sophomore Alisa Heller.

Rooney explained that the state is having a one-year trial period, with the goal of getting at least 100 girls involved in nine different weight classes.

"I think we're going to do it," he said.

The Wolves' first tournament will be in Petersburg on Oct. 17.

 

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