By Chris Parker
Winona has been an institution at the Final Four over coach Francie McBride’s 22 years. The Lady Wildcats have made 14 trips to the Final Four and won five state titles.
Trip No. 14 last year might have been the most difficult. Injuries decimated Winona to the point that they had to play one game with just five players.
They would fight through the adversity to win the Class 1 District 5 Championship.
“I would have to say their mental and physical perseverance as well as the being so proud of the way they pulled together as a team in order to finish where they did (will be my enduring memory of last year’s team),” McBride said. “I’ve never had a team afflicted with so many injuries as that group and yet they become tougher as the season progressed.”
Senior Kiley Counts and Lyndsey Rightnowar tallied 214 and 140 kills, respectively, last season. Counts also led the Lady Wildcats in aces (54) and blocks (17) while finishing third in digs (229).
“These two girls will most definitely be solid leaders in our offensive as well as defensive stars this year not to mention they are both very aggressive servers which will be added weapons for us this year,” McBride said. “We had a great summer and they both proved to be the positive leaders I expected them to be. Emotionally they are both so fun to watch on the court, they showed so much fire and enthusiasm and that feeds the intensity for the rest of the team. Kiley and Lyndsey both exhibit the leadership you want for your squad from seniors. They’ve put in the extra time and it’s going to show this fall.”
Cheyanne Wallace and Teah Thomason will return to the varsity lineup. Wallace will be the libero. Thomason returns as a right side after missing the last half of last season with a broken foot.
Freshman Cloey Asplin will take over the setting duties this season. She had a strong club season this past winter which has her ready to step into the varsity lineup right away. Fellow freshman Autumn Fitzanko will also play six rotations for the Lady Wildcats.
Expectations for Winona will continue to be high with a trip the Final Four remaining the consistent goal.
“I have great expectations for this group,” McBride said. “We have a solid bunch of returners who have worked extremely hard in the offseason to prepare for another run for a state title.”