By Kai Raymer
From 2012-15, Buffalo was among the area’s winningest programs. The Bison won at least 20 matches each season during that four-year span – including 29 wins in 2013.
Injuries and several close losses hindered the Bison in 2016, but Buffalo enters a new season eager to reestablish itself on the local volleyball scene.
The Bison finished 9-18-3 overall last year, losing to Bolivar in three sets in a Class 3 district quarterfinals match. Six seniors graduated.
“We had some injuries that took a toll on our team and took us out of our comfort zone,” said Buffalo coach Carmen Smith. “Bottom line, we had a tough time finishing points to win matches. We had graduated a couple of outstanding players the year before and had young players filling their roles.”
The Bison look to have a junior-heavy and overall young team this fall, with potentially only two seniors in the varsity rotation. Emma Wolf (51 kills, 41 blocks) brings an imposing frame (6’3”) as a right side hitter, while Emilee Todd (87 digs) is progressing at libero.
“Emma can be dominant,” Smith said. “She is a very strong blocker and that’s what we’ll rely on her for. Emilee continues to get better at her job.”
Junior Lexi Jack (384 assists) will be the team’s primary setter. Smith was unsure if Buffalo will run a 5-1 (one setter) or 6-2 (two setters) system, but Jack will be directing the offense regardless.
“Lexi will have to step up as a leader for our team to run the offense,” Smith said.
Delaney Miller could be one of the youngest players on the varsity team, but perhaps the most experienced. Among returning players, Miller leads the Bison in kills (77) and is tied for first in blocks (41).
Smith is eager to see what Miller, who can play at middle hitter or setter, can do in her second full season of varsity competition.
“(Miller) stepped up last year as a freshman and I expect more of the same this year,” Smith said. “She has grown in the offseason as a hitter and has the potential to become a very good setter as well.”
A trio of juniors fill out the remaining varsity lineup: Allison Mankey (OH), Courtney Austin (OH/MH) and Maddie Jacobs (OH/DS).
“Alison saw some playing time last year on varsity and is showing her consistency this summer as a hitter,” Smith said. “Courtney is improving each day she steps on the court and her hitting keeps getting better. She is a smart player.”
Jacobs serves a utility role and can play anywhere on the court.
“She can play front row as a hitter or we trust her to help lead our defense on the back row,” Smith said. “Maddie is another consistent player that just gets the job done.”
Buffalo needs to replace significant offensive production from its senior class.
A trio of seniors – Megan Swanigan (139 kills), Juliette Moore (128 kills) and co-captain Brooklyn Webb (103 kills, team-high 200 digs) – led the Bison in kills last season.
Additionally, Buffalo graduated co-captain and DS Hannah Williams (138 digs), DS Natalee Wilhite and OH Gabby Ramos.
“The team worked extremely hard all season and I’m very proud of them for that,” Smith said. “We have all learned a lot from last season as far as attitudes and abilities and are ready to build for this season.”
One area of concern for Buffalo could be serve receive, which Smith said was inconsistent during the offseason.
“It is impossible to run a great offense if we cannot first pass the ball,” Smith said. “We will continue to work very hard to get better at this as well as defense.
Expect the Bison to have a better presence around the net, though.
“I think our blocking will be improved,” Smith said. “We have a couple players that are showing great strengths this summer in that department and we haven’t had that in the past. We will serve aggressive and we have good hitters if we can get our passing consistent.”
Buffalo opens the regular season on Aug. 24, hosting Branson.