LOGGERS: Onalaska Loses Four Senior Starters, But Hopes to Build on Last Year’s 7-10 Squad That Qualified for Districts
By Eric Trent
ONALASKA — Real estate agent by day, volleyball coach by night.
Jenny Hamilton never planned to take over as Onalaska’s new volleyball coach. She had only ever coached fourth grade through middle school volleyball before. But she knew a year ago that former head coach Terri Dalsted was planning to step down after the 2019 season. Hamilton, who has two daughters on the team, Morgan and Dakota Hamilton, began recruiting coaches to take over. Then the rumors started to swell.
“People kept asking, ‘Are you going to take the job?’” Hamilton said. “‘Nope. I’m going to watch my girls.’ Then it started to become more and more clear that I was going to take the job.”
Hamilton was officially hired in April and had no clue the pandemic was going to last this long. She was geared up to have the girls compete in camps this summer, including an annual summer league in Napavine. She already had the Centralia College volleyball team lined up to come visit the Loggers at the end of June. Lewis County never reached phase four of the state’s reopening plan and the camp was canceled, along with everything else scheduled.
Instead, she began watching drill exercises on YouTube, taking coaching clinics and preparing for when the girls could return to practice. They had a brief window this summer, but that was soon closed until Sept. 28, when the WIAA opened practice up for pods of 10 players at a time. The guidelines switched to groups of six or less on Oct. 6 and the Loggers have been taking full advantage of this period.
Onalaska is coming off a season in which it finished middle-of-the-pack in the 2B Central League, tying for sixth place with a 7-10 overall and 4-6 league record. The Loggers qualified for districts, going 1-3 with a win over Life Christian Academy in the second round before being eliminated by Willapa Valley.
They lose four seniors, all starters, including outside hitter Eryn Duryea, a first-team all-C2BL selection who tallied 233 digs and 164 kills last season.
“It’s a little bit of a rebuilding year, but exciting because I see a lot of good things coming out of these younger girls who have a lot of potential,” Hamilton said.
The Loggers bring back eight varsity players including four seniors: defensive specialists Keiley Fickett and Kaitlynn Reed, middle hitter Hailey Naillon and setter Kayla Osborn. Two juniors, defensive specialist Raelee Holmes and outside hitter Hannah James, are both back.
Holmes, who recently started training at Thorbeckes Athletic Club, said being back in the gym has been a welcome change after the long summer.
“It’s felt nice because it felt like there’s some hope for us to play sports this year,” Holmes said. “It’s nice practicing, even if we don’t have games. Everyone was excited. We all knew we were out of shape but it was fun.”
Sophomore outside hitter Morgan Hamilton and sophomore right-side hitter Shelby Fuller return as well. Hamilton, who was opposite of Duryea last season, is the only full-time returner who played all the way around. She said being thrust into a starting role as a freshman was important to her development.
“It was stressful but it was a lot of fun,” Hamilton said. “I wouldn’t want it any other way, of course. It helped me learn how to be a leader, even at a young age.”
Three freshmen are joining the varsity squad and figure to get some playing time. Dakota Hamilton, the coach’s daughter, who will see some time at setter and middle hitter, and Aliyah Low and Desi Smith, who each have been playing some back row in practices.
One newcomer who should provide an instant boost is junior Andi Oliver, who transferred from a Class 4A school in Montana where she saw limited playing time.
“She has a ton of talent everywhere,” Hamilton said. “She’s a little bit green again, so we’ve got to get her back and actually have her setting, which I’m excited about.”
Still, the lack of competition this summer, a period crucial for building teamwork and camaraderie before the season, has put the Loggers a step back in terms of team chemistry. On top of that, being limited to only groups of six at practice has also hindered the team from adjusting to the flow of playing together.
“You can only do so much with six girls,” Hamilton said. “Once they get the teamwork down, by the end of the season, they’ll be so much better. And next summer I think we’ll be able to go into the summer and go to the camps, get all the extra help we need and we’ll see a different team.”
She also has plans to open back up the fourth, fifth and sixth grade volleyball teams now that she knows what type of drills they need to work on to be ready once they reach high school. One thing she’s already noticed that not only the Loggers are short on, but the league as a whole, is setters.
“I want girls to be building, be good passers and setters, so when they get up to the varsity level, we’re not training these girls starting as setters,” Hamilton said.
The Loggers also have a new junior varsity coach, Maddy Dalsted, who is Terri’s daughter that played for the Loggers and Centralia College.
“It’s a learning curve for us all,” Hamilton said.
In a normal year, Onalaska would already be nearing the end of the regular season and gearing up for postseason. Now the Loggers are waiting for next spring to begin their season after WIAA’s modified sports calendar pushed back most fall sports to Season 3 along with football, girls soccer and 2B/1B boys soccer. The volleyball pre-practice period is tentatively scheduled to begin March 1. The regular season is set to run from March 8 to April 25, and the postseason is slated for April 26 to May 2.