Truckee volleyball | Reloaded champs set for tough road to state |

Truckee volleyball | Reloaded champs set for tough road to state

File photoTruckee junior outside hitter Mackenzie Redner returns as one of the Wolverines' top players. Truckee is seeking a fourth consecutive state championship.

Only three Truckee volleyball players return from last year’s juggernaut squad and#8212; and yet, the three-time defending state champs appear to be right on par with their predecessors.

The Wolverines reloaded in the offseason while returning three impact players from a year ago, including junior All-League outside hitter Mackenzie Redner, who at 6 feet with a powerful right arm has already proven to be a dominant force at the net.

and#8220;Mackenzie hits the ball real hard and plays great defense. She’s kind of like a Kiersten (Knoppel) and Annie (Reiswig) combined,and#8221; said Truckee head coach Erika Murphy, comparing Redner with two of Truckee’s top players last year, both of whom are playing in college. and#8220;She swings hard.and#8221;

Redner has plenty of support around her. Senior setter Gabby Moretti also returns from the 2011 championship team, as well as junior outside hitter Chelsea Mohun. The roster also includes seniors Nichole Riofrio at middle blocker, Kestlie Stefanelli at libero, Mel Jones at outside hitter and Bailey Copeland, as well as juniors Lauren Peak, Becca Berelson, Jessie Joplin and Emma Sheedy.

Moretti, who’s been racking up assists in the early season, has impressed Murphy with her game. In fact, the team hasn’t skipped a beat at the position in the absence of All-League setter Brittany Thomas, who graduated.

and#8220;Gabby had big shoes to fill, and she trained during the offseason and came ready to play. She was on fire last night,and#8221; Murphy said, referring to a win in three sets over Fernley in which Moretti finished with 30 assists. and#8220;She was putting it in a spot where Mackenzie could really hit it. She gave her options on where to hit it, too, which is the sign of a good setter.and#8221;

Murphy said she originally had Mohun at middle blocker, as someone needed to fill the position in place of Elizabeth Costa, who moved to Kansas in the offseason. But after the season-opening High Sierra Tournament last week, she realized Mohun and#8212; noted for her jumping ability and#8212; could better help the team at outside hitter. She moved Riofrio to the middle, and the 5-foot-6 senior is holding down the position like a champ, Murphy said.

and#8220;She really stepped up,and#8221; Murphy said of Riofrio. and#8220;She reads the court well and makes good decisions when things get helter-skelter at the net.and#8221;

While the Wolverines are plenty capable at the net, they lost a substantial amount of size to graduation, including two 6-footers and two at 5-11. Redner is the only 6-footer now, while Berelson is next tallest at 5-8. With a smaller group across the board, Murphy said this year’s team is a bit more defensive and athletic on the return.

and#8220;We have really good diggers,and#8221; she said. and#8220;We have girls who can really get the ball up to the setter.and#8221;

Besides Redner, Murphy pointed to Jones, a 5-6 outside hitter, and Stefanelli, a 5-5 libero, as players with and#8220;very heavy servesand#8221; and generally and#8220;heavy hands.and#8221;

and#8220;What I mean is that, when they make contact with the ball, it’s hard, it’s a top spin, and it’s down,and#8221; Murphy said. and#8220;And that’s not a common thing for girls that size.and#8221;

Another strength of this year’s team is its service game, which is one of Truckee’s points of emphasis.

and#8220;My girls are very good servers. They serve to location, which is disruptive for the other side, so they can’t just run a nice, beautiful offense,and#8221; Murphy said.

As for the Wolverines’ chances for a fourth consecutive state championship in the Division I-A (formerly 3A), the road to the title became considerably more challenging with the addition of nine Division I schools (formerly 4A) in the south that dropped down to the Division I-A. They include Cheyenne, Clark, Faith Lutheran, Mojave, Pahrump Valley, Western, Chaparral, Desert Pines and Sunrise Mountain. All are much larger schools than Truckee, which has the smallest enrollment of any Division I-A school.

and#8220;I feel like the girls can handle what’s going on in the Northern Region. What I’m a little concerned about is the (nine) new teams in the south,and#8221; Murphy said. and#8220;We got a chance to see Faith Lutheran at the High Sierra Tournament, and they’re definitely going to be tough.

and#8220;But I’m not worried about that now. We’re just going to take baby steps. Our first goal is to do well in league, and then do well in the north. We’re just taking it one step at a time, because we’re looking at (nine) new teams that we know nothing about.and#8221;

As for the Northern Division I-A, Murphy said she expects Dayton, Fallon and South Tahoe to boast strong teams.

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