Billings volleyball marched to the Class 1 Final Four last year where the Lady Wildcats would finish fourth posting a 26-6-2 record overall.
The Final Four experience was illuminating for Billings.
“One thing the team has learned is to enjoy the ride, not let one-point affect you, learn from your mistakes and grow from them,” Billings Head Coach Brandi Sillavan said. “When playing under pressure don’t play scared, still play your game and fight to win.”
Coming up short of the ultimate goal has also provided off-season motivation for the returning Lady Wildcats.
“This summer the team has not taken gym time or game time for granted. They are working hard to build a new chemistry with their new teammates, they are working on how to trust their teammates and working on more situational plays,” Sillavan said.
The Lady Wildcats return a strong group of players, but must replace a group of five seniors that included all-state setter Liz Gearing. Gearing posted 712 assists last year and provided strong leadership.
“We will miss Liz’s leadership. For the past few years she has been a leader on and off the court,” Sillavan said. “We will also miss her determination to get the job done, her hustle to get to every second ball, and the setting connections she has made with the hitters over the past few years.”
Leading the way this year will be senior Bailey Groves. Groves earned and all-state selection thanks to a team-high 316 kills, 418 digs and 341 serve-receives.
“Bailey has explosive power and a quick arm swing,” Sillavan said. “One reason why she is a threat is because she also plays her position smartly. Often a placement hit instead of a power hit is the better option to maximize the chance of winning the point, and Bailey knows how to see the court and talk to her teammates to find the holes. Bailey has also been working on finding ways to get our team back into system if we are out of system for the team to have better offensive attempts.”
Groves won’t be alone on the attack with classmates Morgan Heimer and Bailie Williams both returning after tallying 190 and 157 kills, respectively, last year.
“Having a diversified offense is big for our team. Expanding our team’s hitting options at the net will not only increase our kill ratio, but also keep the opponent’s blockers guessing, often causing holes in the blocks and causing their back row to work harder,” Sillavan said.
Williams will see a bit of a new role this year adding setting to her hitting duties.
“Bailie has done a wonderful job at stepping up and setting for the team. She has done a good job at setting up our offense and getting the set to the needed player, and still a big hitter for us when she is on the front row,” Sillavan said.
Heimer will be the starting middle hitter and play all six rotations.
“Morgan brings a lot to the front row with her powerful arm swing, and her ability to swing left or right depending on the block. She also puts up a big block up to help our defense, last year she led the team with blocks,” Sillavan said.
Seniors Lauren Herd and Alexus Sekscinski along with junior Liberty Hardie return to the varsity court. Herd will play all the way around as a right side hitter/middle back. Sekscinski will be one of the team’s new setters. Hardie will be a middle or outside hitter.
Juniors Hanna Verch (setter) and Lizzie Edwards (hitter) along with sophomore Emma Datema (outside) are some new players who will impact the varsity equation.
Billings is not backing off on the expectations despite having to replace a large senior group.
“We still have high expectations this year for our team considering we lost five seniors. This season we want to focus on building our new team chemistry and we will challenge ourselves to become better at every practice and every game. This year we are still competing for the conference and district title again,” Sillavan said.
Billings opens the season on Sept. 3 at home against Pierce City.