The Western Nebraska Community College volleyball team heads into this season with plenty of motivation.
After missing out on qualifying for the national tournament as regional champions last year, and being unranked in the preseason ratings, the Cougars are aiming to climb back up to the top.
“This definitely gives us motivation to want to be back up there and stay up there for the rest of the season to come,” WNCC sophomore Gabriela Canavati said. “But, as a team, we 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.”
WNCC, which has just four returners back from a year ago, start the new season against Durham College out of Canada on Thursday at 3 p.m. in McCook. The Cougars will then head to Council Bluffs, Iowa, for this weekend’s Reiver Classic where they will face No. 3 Iowa Western Community College on Friday before taking on Indian Hills and Jefferson on Saturday.
“Honestly we don’t know much about Durham, but we are expecting a great game and a great fight,” Canavati 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 11 newcomers. The four returners, however, saw considerable action a year ago and are bringing solid 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 include 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.”
After the opening weekend in which WNCC will face five opponents in three days, the Cougars will be back in action Aug. 27 against Eastern Wyoming College in Torrington before taking part in the Crystal INNvitational in Salt Lake City. The first home match of the season will be Sept. 10 against EWC.