By Chris Parker
Laken Walden takes over as head coach of the Spokane volleyball program this year. She inherits a squad that has won at least 14 matches each of the past three seasons.
The Owls will be led by senior Brooke Martin. Martin led Spokane in both kills (137) and assists (166) last season on her way to a first-team all-conference selection.
“Brooke is an all-around athlete. She can be thrown into any position and as a coach I would be confident in her success. She is just a natural born athlete with an incredible work ethic. As a coach I just want to help her see what she is capable of and see that she has yet to reach her full potential on the court,” Walden said. “I expect Brooke to really step out of her comfort zone and become a vocal leader on and off the court. We all know she’s a great player and I want her to be the core to keep the team together and be the player others, including myself, in tight situations can rely on to get the job done.”
Seniors Mackenzie Guerin (middle) and Maddison Bonzer (setter) along with junior Paige Crabtree (DS/libero) also return for Spokane.
Guerin was named honorable mention all-conference last season. She had 81 kills and 18 blocks last year.
“Mackenzie is a returning middle for the Lady Owls and led the team in blocks last season. She is very agile and quick on the net,” Walden said. “This season our goal is to increase the number of quick hits. This summer we have introduced a few ‘new’ hits for her coming from the middle. I expect her to really step up this season and be the commander of our net play.”
Bonzer will be the primary setter running a 6-1 this season. Last year she was second on the team with 122 assists.
“Maddi is a returning setter and I am expecting even more out of her this season. Switching our offense to a 6-1 she will be touching the ball every play. She really steps up when it comes to leadership on and off the court,” Walden said. “I am hoping to increase her vocal leadership to call the hits and really be the quarterback of our team this season.”
Crabtree will be a defensive and serving star for the Owls. She led the team in aces (47) and digs (228) while finishing runner-up in serve-receives (235).
“Paige has one of the best jump serves I’ve seen in a while. She played libero last year and will continue to take the reins of our defense,” Walden said. “Paige has the talent to be one of the best defensive specialists in the area if she can be confident in her abilities. I think as she matures she will take more control and own the back row for the Lady Owls.”
Juniors Aryanna Baxter (DS), Maggie Czachowski (MH/OH) and Marah Davis (OH/MH) along with freshmen Ellison Mehrhoff (MH/RS) and Sydney Bryan (DS/S) will be new names to watch for varsity this year.
Missouri has moved to a five-set format this year, which will provide its own sets of challenges.
“I think it is a great idea but I do feel that it will be a challenge for the smaller schools. The girls will need to be in great shape and focus on endurance this preseason,” Walden said. “I am looking forward to seeing how they handle five-set games. I still remember my first five set game in college and it was really eye-opening and exhausting. I think this will help all our Missouri players be prepared for college level play. I plan to have a deep bench with strong players that I think will help the girls transition better.”
Walden hopes to have Spokane making a deep post-season run quickly.
“The first time I met the girls as a team I told them the bar was set high for this group,” Walden said. “I explained to them that there is no reason why Spokane shouldn’t be a post-season contender. When I was asked why I wanted to come to Spokane I said because I wanted to build a winning tradition and really show the athletes what they are capable of. I truly believe my girls at Spokane can come out on top of our district and make an impact this season.”