Sierra has a chance to follow up an historic season with another.
The defending Valley Oak League champion took some graduation hits, most notably four-year setter Rebecca Thomson (now at Arizona Christian), but returns five third-year varsity players who are reinforced by an up-and-coming group from the successful junior varsity team.
“Expectations are always the same; that the girls come in with the mind set of just wanting to grow as a team and as an individual,” third-year coach Kim Ellis said. “We talk about setting personal goals and constantly holding each other accountable to fulfill those.
“In the end, our goals are, of course, to continue to build (from the 2022 success) and take VOL for a second year, but we know there is going to be a big fight for that. There are a lot of other teams that have a lot of talent, so by no means do we believe it’s going to be handed to us. We’re going to have to work every day for it. I definitely think we have a good chance, but again, it’s not going to be handed to us.”
In the 28th year of the school’s existence, the Timberwolves ran the table for their first-ever league title and finished 24-5. They got to host and win a postseason match for the first time but was shocked by 10th-seeded Lincoln of Placer Valley in a five-set heartbreaker in the SJS Division III quarterfinals.
The hope now is to take that next step by making the semifinal round and earning a spot in the NorCal tournament.
Leading the experienced group are All-VOL first-team outside hitter Zoe Kossart, outside hitter Sophia Marian, defensive specialist Karlie Burns and 6-foot twins Abigail and Alexandra Chapman.
Sophia Threet was playing up as a sophomore last season but takes on an expanded role at setter. Senior opposite Elise Vaifale was one of six sophomores on the varsity squad two years ago and returns to action after missing the entire 2022 season to injury.
“Most of our players do play club as well as beach, so they definitely stay busy year-round,” Ellis said. “They’re hungry, and they want to go out with a bang.
“These players have been playing together for many years. Their chemistry all-around is great. They have a solid understanding of how each other plays. On and off the court, they’re all really great friends.”
Ellis plans to carry a bigger roster, with many players being brought up from the 17-6 JV team. Sophomore Gianna Leonardo, for example, will help handle the load at setter. A replacement for all-league first-team selection Jenna Dalen has not yet been named at libero, but sophomore Ellie Denny and senior Katelyn Burkett are certain to see time in the back row.
“Definitely preparing for the future,” Ellis said. “It’s a big team this year, just to be prepared as we plan for next year.”
The T’wolves are again measuring themselves against tough competition in their non-league schedule. They’re getting another shot at Turlock power Pitman and SJS Division III champion Escalon while returning to the Stockton Classic Kickoff and the late-season Stockton Classic.
Sierra has even added Ripon Christian, the reigning Division IV state champ. They’ll face off Aug. 29 at RC.
“We’re seeing a lot of the same teams that we played last year and really enjoyed the competition,” Ellis said. “The girls definitely want to redeem themselves against the ones we lost to last year, and we’re excited to get Ripon Christian on the books.”