Centre’s new volleyball coach, Susan Saunders, has been playing the game since fourth grade. She was a member of an Augusta High School volleyball team that went to state three years in a row. In her senior year, they won the 4A state championship with just seven players.
After playing one year at Colby Community College, Saunders transferred to Friends University in Wichita, where she was part of a team that went undefeated in league play and qualified for the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics national tournament in 1986.
Saunders is pleased that the 12 players on Centre’s team this year include six returning letter winners. They are seniors Summer Espinosa, Katie Marler, Shelby Pankratz, and Alexius Kendrick, and juniors Kate Basore and Emily Schlesener.
As setters and hitters, Espinoza and Pankratz were named to the Wheat State League first team last year. Basore, at 5-10, is the tallest player on the team.
Coach Saunders expects sophomore Grace Knepp to contribute as a setter. Other players are freshman Emma David, sophomores Kayla Gosnell and Athena Salamone, and juniors Haizea Diego and Grace Peterson.
Saunders said experience will be the team’s strength. The Lady Cougars finished 5-2 in league play and 10-15 overall last year.
“The core team has been playing together for four years now, and they know the strengths and weaknesses of each other,” she said.
She expects them to communicate with each other on the floor, so as not to make costly mistakes.
“I have great expectations for this year,” she said. “The girls are working hard, and we are experimenting with new rotations and new hitting assignments.”
She expects last year’s state champions, Goessel, to be their toughest opponent.
Lainey Bell, a paraeducator at Centre, is Saunders’ assistant. Saunders said Bell has great volleyball knowledge and brings energy to the team.
Their first games were Tuesday at Canton-Galva.