Ten returning letterwinners fuel high hopes for Kee volleyball team

Left to right - Front row: Kendra Cooper, Rachel Richards, Ashley Schwartzhoff. Middle row: Erin Rud, Mikayla Gavin, Chloe Severson. Back row: Ellie Cooper, Courtney Cooper, Lily Winters. Not pictured: Téa Fink. Photo courtesy of Kee High School Yearbook.

The 2015 Kee volleyball team has a lot to look forward to this fall; a lot of height, a lot of returning varsity experience, and a lot of hope for a successful fall campaign. A whopping total of 10 varsity letterwinners return for the volleyball Hawks, including every one of their statistical leaders from last season from a squad that finished with a 12-17 overall record and a 5-4 mark that placed Kee in the middle of the final Upper Iowa Conference standings.
“I believe our biggest strength will be the fact we have so many returning letterwinners and experience,” Kee volleyball coach Rich Ellis said. “Last season we had three freshmen in the line-up, and those girls have a year of varsity volleyball under their belt now. Combine that with our returning seniors and it should lead to a successful season. We will be counting on our seniors to really supply the leadership we are going to need to be successful.”
That list of veteran returnees includes all five of this season’s seniors in Ellie Cooper, Tea Fink, Mikayla Gavin, Erin Rud and Lily Winters, with juniors Courtney Cooper and Rachel Richards further adding to that upperclassmen experience. Sophomores Kendra Cooper, Ashley Schwartzhoff and Chloe Severson round out that seasoned experience after contributing in just their first seasons of varsity eligibility.
Gavin and Kendra Cooper return as a very formidable “twin tower” front row presence, Gavin leading the Hawks with 124 kills last season and Kendra Cooper not only posting a team-high 38 blocks but also providing some pacesetting at the service line with a 96.8% serving efficiency and joining Winters with 34 ace serves each to lead Kee’s serving charge. The senior tandem of Ellie Cooper and Rud rounded out the Hawks’ returning statistical leadership, Ellie Cooper posting a team-high 200 assists on offense and Rud digging up 218 saves to pace the defense.
The graduation of the senior foursome of Sadie Hill, Val Meyer, Nicole Vinson and Molly Walleser took with it its own bit of leadership, but Coach Ellis sees the amount of returning experience as a promising remedy to that loss. “Even though we lost some strong front row players from last season, we have girls that were in the rotation at some point last year that are filling those holes quite nicely,” he said.
Despite all the promise that this season may hold, Coach Ellis still sees room for needed improvement to meet such goals. “Our biggest area that we are going to need to improve on is our passing game,” he said. “If we get the improvement that is needed in this area, we should be able to win a lot of matches. If we can pass the ball so our setters can get a good touch on it, I don’t think there will be many teams that will be able to match our size in the front row.”
Should that key component fall in line with the rest of this season’s returning experience, Coach Ellis and his charges have high goals set for their 2015 campaign. “I would be very disappointed if we didn’t finish in the top three in the conference,” Coach Ellis said. “The girls have a conference title in their sites and a desire to make a deep run into the postseason.”
Those conference title hopes will be challenged strongly by some traditional volleyball powers within the Upper Iowa Conference, according to Coach Ellis. “I foresee us, South Winn, Turkey Valley and Ed-Co mixing it up towards the top,” he said of the Upper Iowa Conference race. “I feel the conference as a whole will be down in volleyball this season. There are many teams that lost a lot of seniors, so it should be interesting to see how things play out.”
The Hawks are scheduled to get their quest toward this season’s goals underway Thursday, August 27 with a non-conference double dual at De Soto, WI against the host Pirates and Seneca, WI before opening their Upper Iowa Conference (UIC) schedule. Those initial UIC matches will tell a strong tale for this season, as the Hawks will face off against two of the three teams Coach Ellis mentioned as this season’s other potential frontrunners, hosting Turkey Valley and New Hampton Thursday, September 3 and then South Winneshiek the following Thursday, September 10.