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Verrado volleyball to focus on defense in 2017

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Verrado Volleyball team practices on August 23. (West Valley View photo by Ray Thomas)

By Casey Pritchard

Verrado’s exit from the 2016 state tournament was heartbreaking.

The Lady Vipers were downed in straight sets by Tucson Ironwood Ridge in the 5A quarterfinals, but all three games were decided by three points or less. The team has a bit of a different look this year, and is going to have to pride itself on playing strong defense.

“I honestly feel like we lost to Ironwood Ridge defensively,” said Verrado coach Mike Lussier. “So, we’ve really refined some of the things we need to work on. We’re looking to get a little bit further than we did last year, for sure.”

Six players graduated from last year’s team, but a few athletes from the JV level have moved up to fill in those vacancies, Lussier said.

“We’re excited,” Lussier said. “We’re not overly tall this year – we do have a couple 6-footers – but I feel like our team is really, really athletic and our defensive prowess is really going to improve. So, I think we’re going to be pretty good.”

In addition to its focus on defense, Verrado is working on ball control. Lussier said the team spends more than half of its practice working on skills and drills, making sure the players have good technique and good form.

“Our team is going to be predicated on ball control,” Lussier said. “It’s not to say we don’t have some strong offensive players, maybe not in all six rotations, but we’ve got enough offense to get it done. But our biggest asset is going to be defense and ball control.”

Of the six athletes Verrado lost to graduation, Logan Wallick will be the hardest to replace. She led the Lady Vipers with 424 kills last year.

“It’s extremely difficult to replace someone like her because of everything she brought to the table in terms of leadership, respect, and her game was just phenomenal,” Lussier said. “She had such a good game, so we’re going to miss her dearly.”

One player Lussier said he hopes can step up is junior Rachel Abramson. Last year, Abramson had 206 kills as a sophomore, and is already receiving multiple scholarship offers from colleges, Lussier said.

“We’re looking for some big things from Rachel,” Lussier said. “I’ve been fortunate enough to coach Rachel ever since she was 10, 11, 12 years old in the club ranks. She’s an amazing athlete and I think she’s going to learn more about leadership as a junior, and all the intangibles that go along with being a stud on the court. It’s not just performing on the court, it’s leadership and so many other things that Logan had.”

Another strong player for the Lady Vipers is sophomore Faith Buford. The 6-foot-1-inch middle blocker got a lot of court time as a freshman last year, and that experience has paid dividends, Lussier said.

“She’s got a whole another year of club under her belt, and she’s just improved tremendously,” Lussier said. “We’re looking for some big things. She’s looking really good and I think she’s going to have a great year.”

Nicole Cabrera moved up from the JV team to varsity this year, and will probably be the Lady Vipers’ second outside hitter, Lussier said.

“She is extremely athletic, really coachable, and she’s one of these girls that gives 100 percent on every touch, so we’re looking for some big contributions from Nicole,” Lussier said.

Kiley Evans also moved up from JV and will be the second setter along with returner Marina Samaniego. Last year, Samaniego had 888 assists, which made her the all-time assists leader at Verrado, Lussier said.

“She’s fantastic, and has improved over the last club season,” Lussier said. “Setting, to me, is everything, and we really have a great setting core that we’re going to be able to incorporate this year.”

Verrado opened the season Tuesday at Scottsdale Chaparral. The result was unavailable at press time. The Lady Vipers are back in action Friday and Saturday in Youngker’s tournament. Verrado will also play in the Chandler Prep Invitational at the end of September, and will be in San Diego in the middle of October for the Southern California Invitational. Last year, the Lady Vipers went 2-3 in that event.

“Being October 12-15, it’s late, so we have the opportunity to refine,” Lussier said. “But more than anything, it gives us a chance to get away, to do some bonding right before state – if we’re fortunate enough to get to state – and it’s very high-level volleyball. For us, it’s just a fantastic trip full of bonding and for a few days, just hard-nosed volleyball, great competition, and a good time for us to spend together.”

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