Casper College head volleyball coach Angel Sharman won’t be looking for any long-term answers when the Thunderbirds host the University of Great Falls in an exhibition match Wednesday.
But the longtime coach won’t have to wait long before finding out more about this year’s squad.
After Wednesday’s match, the T-Birds hit the road for tournaments in Utah, Kansas and Idaho where they’ll face three teams that advanced to the National Junior College Athletics Association Division I Tournament. They’ll face another NJCAA qualifier on Sept. 5 when they play at Western Nebraska Community College.
Casper College won’t play at home again until Sept. 13.
“Our early schedule is challenging,” said Sharman, who also serves as Casper College’s athletics director, “but it’s the only way we’re going to get better. I like the challenge right from the start because those are the teams that you have to compete against and those are the teams that go to the national tournament.
“So if those teams pick on our weaknesses early and we can fix those and improve on them it only makes us stronger.”
Sharman admits there will likely be a learning curve for this year’s team, which returns only two starters and four players from last year’s 17-17 squad.
“I think we’re going to be quicker and maybe more aggressive,” she said, “but we’re just so young. We just have a lot to cover in a short amount of time. When you have 10 new people it’s a little bit more challenging.”
Helping ease that challenge is the presence of sophomores Louisa Krams and Aylana Sheldon, who finished third and fourth, respectively, on the team in kills. The 6-foot Krams moved to the outside this season after playing in the middle last year while the 5-10 Sheldon remains at middle blocker.
Sophomore outside hitters Annie Deininger and Jessica Pilivi, both of whom are 5-10, provided some depth off the bench last year.
“Our two outsides didn’t play a whole lot but they were here so they know the system,” Sharman said.
With so many new faces, Sharman expects the T-Birds to play a different style than in past years.
“We had some power hitters last year and taller setters,” she said. “I think this year’s team is taller and is going to be a little bit stronger, hitting-wise. Right now it’s just a matter of getting our setters and hitters to connect.
“I think our setters are going to be a lot faster, so I think that’s going to be a difference for us because our offense can be quicker.”
Freshmen Emma Rogers from Flagstaff, Arizona, and Lucie Strasser from Austria will take over the all-important setter role.
Outside of Rogers and Strasser and the returning players, Sharman acknowledged a couple other freshmen who had caught her eye in the first week of practice.
“Giuliana Irvine from Hawaii is fast and smooth and reads the play really well,” Sharman said. “She is definitely going to be our libero. And she has really nice hands, which is good because if our setter takes the first ball we like our libero to take the second ball and place it where we can attack it.
“And I think Tasmyn Fahey (a 6-1 middle hitter from New Zealand) is going to be exciting because she’s tall and fast.”
Casper College once again boasts some in-state talent in freshmen outside hitter Heather Rubis from Wright and defensive specialist Sierra Wilson from Natrona County.
“I think Heather has a great opportunity to work her way into the rotation because she jumps well and she passes well,” Sharman said. “Sierra is a little behind just because of her knee injury, but what we really like about her is that she works her tail off. She is going to take her time, improve and she’ll get there.”
Sharman expects the T-Birds as a team to get there as well. First, though, they have to survive the tough early schedule and then be ready for a Region IX North sub-division that includes three-time defending Region IX champ Northwest College and Laramie County Community College, which finished in the Top 20 last season.
“Our region is going to be tough again this year,” Sharman said. “We have to have that competition. If you’re going to be great then you have to beat the great teams.”