After back-to-back four-win seasons, the Streator Bulldog Spikers girls volleyball program looks ready to add some victories to its tally this season with three strong seniors bolstered by a deep, talented junior class and three sophomores ready to play up when the team opens the 2022 season Monday at crosstown rival Woodland.
“We had a great summer with the girls, went and played in a tournament at Joliet Junior College and looked really good,” Streator coach Julie Gabehart said, “so I’m excited to see what the season brings this year.”
That excitement starts with the program’s three seniors – setter Ellie Isermann, defensive specialist/libero Emma Graves and outside hitter Bella Dean – as well as a pair of juniors who manned the middle last fall as sophomores, Devin Elias and Alexa Jacobs, and junior defensive specialist Rilee Talty. All are back after being main contributors a year ago.
“A year bigger, a year stronger, a year of varsity experience under their belts now, so I’m looking for big things from Alexa and Devin,” Gabehart said. “Ellie continues to be here to run our offense and has stepped into the captain’s role this year as well. Bella Dean is returning for her senior year, healthy, and [after two injury-/illness-shortened seasons] I’m looking forward to seeing her for a full season.
“Emma Graves is back, one of the staples of our defense, and Rilee Talty is back as one of our [defensive specialists]. They both cover a lot of court.”
While on the subject of covering a lot of court, Gabehart went on to mention she believes defense will be the strength of this year’s team.
“Defensively, I think we’re looking as good as we’ve ever been. I think it’s going to be tough for teams to get the ball to the floor against us,” she said.
The 11th-grade class makes up the bulk of the varsity roster, with Gabehart feeling each and every one of them is capable of contributing meaningful court time. Aside from Talty, Elias and Jacobs, that junior class includes defensive specialists Kora Lane and Kayla Berg, opposite/middle Analysia Villalobos, setter/opposite Zulema Gonzalez and a junior Gabehart said has had a great offseason and could be “a six-rotation player for us,” outside hitter Sophia Pence.
The three sophomores expected to log varsity time are middle/opposite Mya Zavada, outside hitter Sonia Proksa and a third potential setter, Emma Rambo.
“We have three strong setters in the program,” Gabehart said, “and each of them brings a different tempo to the table. I think any of them can step in at any time, I guess sort of the hot hand and who’s jelling with the hitters at the moment.”
When it comes to goals for the season, Gabehart believes this group of Bulldogs Spikers can be competitive this season and build toward a strong postseason into next season. Step 1 will be finding a way to win the agonizingly close matches that have slipped through the Bulldog Spikers’ paws in recent years.
“From what I’ve seen this summer, if we continue to play they way we’ve been playing, continue to work hard and continue to play as a team, I think we can break into that top three or four teams [in the Illinois Central Eight Conference],” Gabehart said.
“We’re always looking to be .500 or better, and definitely looking to close out matches. We have struggled the past few years now finishing matches. We’re there; it’s always just two or three points. We’re looking to finish strong and close those matches out, turn those close losses into wins for us.”