Vale High School senior Maycee DeLong prepares to set the ball. (The Enterprise/Yadira Lopez)

NYSSA – The Nyssa Bulldogs have seven returning starters this season, but coach Maddie Speelman said all 12 team members will be critical and utilized on the hardwood.

“We have new positions for different players,” Speelman said at practice last week. Moving players around to better suited positions has left the team with “more powerful hitters,” said Speelman.

The Lady Bulldogs ended the 2018 season with a 8-12 overall record. 

“We’re just working on fundamentals,” she added. “We improved so much throughout the season. It proved to us that what we’re doing is working.”

“We’ll be in the top two this year for sure,” said Speelman, who is in her second year at the helm in Nyssa. 

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Speelman highlighted Irrigon and Burns as two teams to beat this season.

Then there’s the old rival: Vale. 

In high school, Speelman was coached by Vale High Volleyball Coach Shannon Steele. Speelman said it’s always a rush to play against her alma mater.

The rivals’ first faceoff will be Sept. 19 in Nyssa. 

Senior team captain Syriah Trujillo is hopeful the Bulldogs will make it to districts. 

“This year we’re trying to work hard and have fun,” Trujillo said.

In Vale, the Vikings are coming back this season with four returning starters. 

“Our philosophy is serve tough, but defense wins games,” said Steele. “If we can serve and receive up to our standards it’s a successful match for us.” 

The Vikings ended the 2018 season with a 10-14 overall record and reached the playoffs before losing to Salem Academy. 

Steele said she will oversee a young team, but with a lot of experience. She pointed to three key players for the season: outside hitter senior Demia Hardin, senior setter Maycee DeLong and junior outside hitter Sierra Cleaver. 

“As a team our biggest goal is being mindful every practice and to always keep improving,” said DeLong. 

Junior Emersyn Johnson, a middle hitter, said the Vikings will work on pushing through after setbacks. 

“I think a good goal for our team is to not give up after losing a set or falling behind,” Johnson said. The Vikings’ first game of the season is a home stand against La Grande on Thursday at 4 p.m.

Steele said Burns and Irrigon are teams to beat, and points to Nyssa as a team that has shown a lot of progress. 

“We’re looking forward to continuing the Viking legacy and bringing home some hardware from the state tournament,” said Steele, who’s been coaching volleyball for 27 years, 11 of those in Vale.

At Ontario, the Tigers are so new that coach Jessica Rodriguez has a hard time predicting who her key players will be. The team includes two seniors, but Rodriguez can’t say for sure how many returning starters are on the roster. Last year’s team had two extra players and none of them started each time. 

Rodriguez, who is coaching varsity at Ontario for the first time, sees this season as a clean slate.

“I’m excited for the potential we have this year,” said Rodriguez. “I see how raw they are and I’m ready to mold them.” 

The Tigers finished last season with only one win. But Rodriguez said she’s placing less emphasis on wins and loses. She’s focused on improvement. 

“My personal goal is building them into total package volleyball players – winning helps that, but so does understanding the game,” Rodriguez said at practice last week.

Have a news tip? Reporter Yadira Lopez: [email protected] or 541-473-3377.

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