The road to unseating Corvallis and West Albany as the top two teams in Mid-Willamette Conference volleyball will be a tough one for the remaining seven teams.

The Spartans and Bulldogs are filling holes around some of the state’s top players after successful runs in 2018. Corvallis was the state champion and West took third.

The teams played two competitive regular-season matches last fall, with the Spartans winning in five and four sets. They meet again Tuesday at Corvallis. Both opened their league schedules with wins last Thursday.

“The girls come to practice every day wanting to work hard because they know they’re going to be seeing Corvallis soon. It definitely fosters a little more motivation,” West coach Kelli Backer said, adding that she expects competitive matches again this year. “It’s fun to play talent like that and have to play your best and see who comes out on top.”

Corvallis returns state player of the year Ryann Gregg, a senior outside hitter who has committed to University of Portland, and senior middle blocker Nevaeh Bray, a fellow first team all-stater.

Also coming back after playing key roles on the championship team are senior right side Taylor Silbernagel and junior defensive specialist/setter Hanna Jones. Junior Kendal Simmons, another varsity returner, will play libero.

Corvallis coach Steve Hyre said he expects his team to lean a little heavier on Gregg, his granddaughter, after the Spartans lost some strength up front.

“We’ll probably see her kills go up just because she’s going to get more sets. We were able to spread things out a lot more last year than maybe we’ll do this year. I think she’s going to be able to handle it,” Hyre said. “If the passing is good then Nevaeh is going to get hers. She’s definitely a force in the middle. She’s very athletic.”

West Albany has senior libero Sydney Backer, the coach’s daughter and a second team all-state selection, and junior Madie Dowell, a second team all-league pick making the move from defensive specialist to outside hitter.

Sophomore middle blocker Grace Boeder and junior right side Hannah Stadstad were also starters last season.

“We lost four seniors that played all the time,” Kelli Backer said. “But we had younger kids that got varsity experience last year and they are all stepping into those roles and doing a great job so far.”

A state semifinal team in 2018, Dallas lost four seniors. But the Dragons return one of two first team all-league players.

Lebanon lost three first- or second-team all-league players to graduation and five seniors in all off a fifth-place Mid-Willamette team.

The five returning players off last year’s roster are seniors Cheyenne Bowman, Mckenzie Crenshaw, Lauren Graber, junior Isabella Jacobsen and sophomore Trinity Holden.

South Albany lost one senior off last year’s sixth-place team in the conference.

Leading the way for the RedHawks up front are outside hitters, Morgan Maynard, a senior, and Tayanani Manibusan, a junior.

“Bringing both of those two back is helpful. They’re doing a good job,” South coach Kelle Angel said.

The team also has middle blockers in senior Abby Sadowsky and junior Jada Schmidtke. Senior setter Claire Angel, the coach’s daughter, also returns, while freshman Brooklyn Willard is learning that position from her teammate.

The RedHawks have a utility player in freshman Samantha Scott, who is being used in several different spots and does what is asked.

“She just kind of fills whatever we need,” coach Angel said.

Crescent Valley coach Troy Shorey doesn’t have to worry about building chemistry within a new group after he returns 11 players from the 2018 squad that won four matches, three in conference, with no seniors.

“With the results of last year and the players not being happy with the results brought them in realizing that they need to work more as a team and less as individuals,” Shorey said, noting a change in attitude and perspective among his players.

Defensive specialist Adrianna Kazmaier and outside hitter Tais Vega, both seniors, are returning all-league players. Shorey expects the same this season for senior Elizabeth Hodgert and junior Eva Buford, both outside hitters and middle blockers. Buford made the move from right side and setter this season.

The Raiders return both their setters in sophomores Madison Heagney and Sierra Noss as they lead an offense that's new to most of the players.

With the experience and chemistry, Shorey expects his team to be able to move up from last year’s tie for seventh in the MWC to a top-half finish.

“They don’t want a repeat this year,” the coach said. “They’ve been coming into practice more focused and building each other up as teammates.”

Corvallis has a transfer in junior setter Zaley Bennett from Orcutt, California.

“She’s picking up the system fairly quickly. A smart kid,” Hyre said, adding that Bennett has good hands and is a solid blocker.

Having two setters, with Jones carrying varsity experience, gives the Spartans the option of running 6-2 or 5-1 formations.

At West Albany, junior Elijah Sanders steps into the starting setter role after being a varsity reserve the last two seasons. Junior Isabella Marsh, another varsity returner, has had good results as a middle blocker and right side early in the season.

Corvallis lost just four sets to 5A competition last year, with three of those against West.

If the Spartans and Bulldogs are to stay near the top of the classification, they’ll likely contend with Ridgeview and Wilsonville, two teams that return a majority of their top players from 2018 state tournament trips. Ridgeview, of Redmond, was the state runner-up.

Lebanon coach Jorden Swanson declined to participate in an interview for this story.

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