With a total of nine returning letter winners from a team that went 31-8 a year ago, the West Liberty High School volleyball team has high hopes as they approach an abbreviated fall season.
Coach Ruben Galvan’s Comets got to the Class 3A state finals a year ago before losing to eventual state champion Mt. Vernon in five sets, going down in the final match 15-11 in Cedar Rapids.
The coach says his team “plays with a lot of heart,” noting “they will definitely be fun to watch this season,” which begins Thursday, Sept. 2 when they travel to Tipton for the first of eight regular season dual matches scattered in between five tournaments beginning Sept. 5 with the Muscatine Invitational and ending Oct. 13-15 with the River Valley Conference tournament.
The veteran coach says his team has a number of strengths going into the new season, starting with “team chemistry,” noting each girl on the team has the same goal in mind. “They push each other hard in practice, holding each other accountable and to be the best teammates possible,” he said.
He said upper classmen leadership is also a plus for the team, with four seniors on the returning roster including outside hitter Martha Pace, middle hitter Isabel Morrison, middle hitter Averi Goodale and right side hitter Emily Bierman. “At practices you often hear them having conversations with the younger classmen sharing teachable moments as well as staying after practices to get extra reps.”
Galvan said his Comets have several returning players and incoming players who have “great experience of playing at the higher caliber level” who are sharing and teaching their experiences with younger teammates.
Another strength is the team’s strong defense, according to Galvan, which he says “helps us with a quicker offense.”
The remainder of the returning lettermen include juniors Macy Daufeldt, an outside hitter, and Mylei Henderson, right side hitter, while three sophomores also return as letter winners including libero Monica Moralez, setter Brooklyn Buysse and defensive specialist Rylee Goodale.
Other girls on the team include sophomore McKenzie Akers, a defensive specialist as well as Rilee Han, a right side hitter.
Galvan said his team continues to grow and compete at the highest level, anticipating another highly successful season after the Comets claimed co-ownership of the Three Rivers Conference title with Wilton, a team they lost to in the regular season but came back and beat to win the conference tournament title later in the year.
Galvan said his philosophy is to provide a meaningful experience for the girls on the team, “enhancing their skills and values in life through sports.”
"I aim to provide them with opportunities that will help lead them to become a good and productive citizen,” the coach said. “I also believe in pushing each individual to their best potential to compete at the highest level of performance.”
The coach is assisted by Brittney Boffeli and Andream Martinez, who will coach the frosh-soph and junior varsity teams as well as assist the varsity squad. He said that outside of the normal practice and game day responsibilities, the two coaches will help with extra daily cleaning including sanitizing equipment while completing temperature checks of all the athletes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Like any other school in the state, our biggest challenge this season is the unknown with COVID-19,” Galvan said. “We are very fortunate that the state is allowing for Fall sports to happen. It is great for our athletes to compete in activities that they enjoy. However, the season is going to look a bit different than in the previous season. Aside from preparing our team to compete, we are taking extra precautions with keeping our athletes safe and healthy.”
The coach said he feels “very fortunate” to be able to have a volleyball season this Fall. “We are in an un-precidented time and will take each day for granted and hope to complete the season. We appreciate all the efforts that the state and our administrators are putting in to hopefully have a complete season.”
West Liberty’s dynamic duo of Daufeldt and Pace both finished in the top 20 in the state last year in kills per set and kill efficiency. Daufeldt was seventh in kills per set with 4.79 and fifth in efficiency in Class 3A with .403 while Pace was right there with her teammate in 2019 with 3.87 kills per set and a .419 kill efficiency in Class 3A
Daufeldt also led the team with 39 aces and was second on the team in blocks.
Morrison was the team leader in blocks with 29 while Morales paced the team with 436 digs on the year for an average of 5.25 digs per set, which was good for third best in Class 3A last year.