Aug. 13—OTTUMWA — Two sets in the past two years.
That is all that has separated the Indian Hills volleyball team from entering the 2022 season seeking to make four consecutive trips to the NJCAA Division I National Volleyball Tournament.
Lyndsey Michel, entering her 13th season at the helm of the Warriors, feels she has the team capable of winning that one extra set this season. In fact, Michel is hoping the Warriors can make plenty of noise throughout the regular season and postseason.
"We're deeper this year than we were last year," Michel said. "We've got girls on the outside position and right side position that are one spot stronger than we were last season. We're more physical and deeper in the middle. I think we have a chance to be even more physical than we could be last season.
"We've got girls that have been here for three years coming back for that COVID season. They've been a part of heartbreak each of the past two seasons. They know what it takes. They know what we're expecting. They understand what it takes to take that one step further and they're motivated in the worst way to take that step."
Jenna Vallee, part of the last two IHCC volleyball teams to fall in the fifth and decisive set of the regional championship match to Missouri State-West Plains, is hoping the third time will be the charm as she enters her final season as a Warrior volleyball player. Having consecutive seasons end painfully in high-stakes matches has driven the native of Pornichet, France to work that much harder throughout the offseason.
"My goal is to keep improving every day to help the team finally get to nationals and win it," Vallee said. "I know what Coach Michel is expecting from the team. She's looking for a leader. I'm hoping it can be me. She's looking for someone to fire everyone up on the court."
One player that has improved physically is Haleigh Hadley. After transferring from Iowa State University, Hadley made an impact appearing in 27 of IHCC's 32 matches last season recording 140 kills while finishing third in total blocks with 76 before earning honorable mention all-region honors as the top high jumper on the Warriors this past spring.
"It's kind of hard to switch your body. That was the hardest for me. To go from volleyball training all day every day to track training, it's so much different. You use different muscles. That kind of hurt me. I actually got hurt pretty early in the track season because I hadn't used those muscles and I put full force on them," Hadley said. "I'll be more prepared this year. I know what it's going to be like. It's made me a better athlete and a better person. It's helped me focus on what I want to be in the future and who I want to be."
Early in her second season on the volleyball court for the Warriors, Hadley is already seeing huge difference in her game from the training she did to become a top-level collegiate high jumper. The multi-sport standout has seen her speed increase as well a nearly half-inch difference in her vertical leap.
"Being able to jump five centimeters higher is the difference in being able to jump over every single block," Hadley said. "As long as the volleyball is up there and I keep my reach where I know it is, I shouldn't be blocked. I know it's going to happen, but hopefully it won't happen to me nearly as often."
Staying healthy, as is the case with most sports, may ultimately be the deciding factor in whether or not Indian Hills can put together a season that culminates with the program's fourth all-time national tournament appearance. The preseason already has seen players like Hadley (quad) and fellow sophomore Josi Schachle (shoulder) have to deal with minor injuries.
"It's not going to be an issue for long. I'm doing the things that I need to do to be healthy," Hadley said. "I definitely won't be running into any scorer tables. If everyone can stay healthy, the expectations are that we can not only go but place pretty high at the national tournament if not win it."
— Scott Jackson can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter@CourierScott.