The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team will open the 2019 season on Thursday with a different focus then previous years.
WNCC enters the season in a different mode from previous years having not won the regional tournament a year ago. That actually has helped the motivation for the team as they enter the season not ranked in the NJCAA pre-season for the first time in over 15 years.
“This definitely give us motivation to want to be back up there and stay up there for the rest of the seasons to come,” sophomore Gabriela Canavati said. “But, we as a team, don’t try to focus on the rankings because it is based on this past season. We have a completely new team this year and we are not focusing on the past, we are focusing on our future.”
The team is new with just four returners back from a year ago when they get started Thursday afternoon against Durham College, a team out of Canada at 4 p.m. in McCook, Nebraska. After the Durham match, the Cougars will then head to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for the Reiver Classic where they will face Ellsworth Community College and No. 3 Iowa Western Community College on Friday before taking on Indian Hills and Jefferson on Saturday.
Canavati said they are expecting a battle from Durham College, who faced McCook on Tuesday with McCook winning in four in the exhibition match 28-26, 25-17, 24-26, 26-24.
“Honestly, we don’t know much about Durham but we are expecting a great game and great fight,” she said. “The Iowa Western tournament is going to be a great experience for us and we are looking forward to playing against ranked teams.”
The Cougars enter the season with a young squad with 11 newcomers. The four returners, however, saw considerable action a year ago and is bringing chemistry to the squad.
“I would say the strength of this team would have to be the chemistry we have,” Canavati said. “This time last year we weren’t nearly as close as we are right now. I think with the chemistry we have, we can make it a long way.”
It all starts with the positive mind frame of the sophomores. The returners include Canavati, a 5-7 hitter from Laredo, Texas, along with Adia Sherbeyn, a 5-7 defensive specialist from Torrington, Wyoming, Ana Costas, a 5-1 libero from Curabo, Puerto Rico, and Leslie Mamai-Lagafuaina, a 6-1 middle hitter from Aiea, Hawaii.
To go along with the four returners is a freshman class that is rich in talent, including three Panhandle players in Anabelle Gillen, a 5-3 setter/defensive specialist from Mitchell, and Olivia Schaub and Arianna Mitchell from Gering. Schaub is a 6-0 outside and middle hitter, while Mitchell is a 5-11 middle hitter.
The Cougars also have three setters this season. Besides Gillen, the other setters included 5-9 Andrea Tsvetanova of Sofia, Bulgaria, and 5-7 Olivia Transfiguracion of Kapolei, Hawaii.
A couple hitters to watch out for this season include 5-9 Karen Cordero of Chula Vista, California, and 5-11 Luisa Beining of Munster, Germany.
Other newcomers that will make an impact included 5-8 outside hitter Alex Hernandez of El Paso, Texas; 5-8 rightside hitter Anu Kaohi of Honolulu, Hawaii, 5-10 middle hitter La’Treva Kennedy of Bryan, Texas, and 5-5 defensive specialist Nicole Pena from Puerto Rico.
Canavati said on paper this team is young, but they are growing with experience each day.
“Even though we are young, we do have a strong team and we are all very, very excited to see how this season turns out,” she said. “We are all working very hard for a great outcome this season.”
When the season opens up this weekend, this team will be anxious to get going.
“We are all somewhat tired from all the practices we’ve had over the duration of the past two and a half weeks,” Canavati said, “but we are giving every ounce of energy and effort that we have in order to be successful.”
After the opening weekend where WNCC will face five opponents in three days, the Cougars will be back in action Aug. 27 when they travel to Eastern Wyoming College before taking part in the Crystal INNvitational in Salt Lake City. The first home match of the season will be September 10 against Eastern Wyoming College.
Canavati said the goal of the season is to make it back to the nationals, but they are taking it one match at a time to achieve the ultimate goals.
“We do have long term goals of winning regionals and going to nationals and hopefully coming back with a ring,” she said. “But in order to get there, we are currently focusing on one game at a time to reach our goals. I’m just excited for this season and ready to play”