Editor's note: This story is part of our team-by-team high school volleyball preview coverage. Coming Monday: Iowa City Regina.
Iowa City High is known as the "School that Leads."
The Little Hawks volleyball team has spent much of its offseason trying to get to the best place it has been in recent seasons.
While that is much easier said than done, coach Tricia Carty said her team is well on its way to doing that because of its unwavering commitment to getting better.
"What is so exciting for me is that we have the potential to be really competitive and work extremely hard to be able to play with anybody on our schedule," Carty said. "Our kids are all working really hard, which has made it really enjoyable for me to come and help our players, whether they be on junior varsity or varsity, to grow every day."
Looking back at 2021
Finishing with a 20-15 record, the Little Hawks played some of their best volleyball toward the end of the season. They won six of their last 10 matches, including a victory over Southeast Polk in the Class 5A Region 4 semifinals.
However, they were unable to get the better of Ankeny, which beat them in the next round.
The loss concluded the tenures of seven seniors, including Makayla Ribble, who was a four-year starter and the team's leader in aces and assists.
Slated to fill a couple of the spots left by the aforementioned seniors are juniors Haleigh Nelson and Sidney Slay.
Slay will have her work cut out for her as she tries to take over for Ribble at setter.
Nelson will be playing defensive specialist and libero, positions that were manned by seniors last season.
Though neither player has gotten a lot of experience on the varsity level, sophomore Emmy McComas said she is expecting big things from both.
"Haleigh Nelson works her butt off in every single practice," McComas said. "Sidney Slay is a really good setter as well as on the right side."
Potential wild cards
With weeks still separating the Little Hawks from their first match of the season, it has allowed them time to try to sort out the best players to put into the starting rotation.
While some spots look sewn up, the fight for the starting setter job is still up for grabs.
Though it seems the team remains mum on who will be taking over the role, whoever earns the spot will be a pivotal part of the team's success.
Key matchup this season
Just as the Iowa City West Trojans expressed their excitement to get a chance to play City High, the Little Hawks are champing at the bit to face them, too.
Though the Little Hawks were victorious in last year's "Battle for the Spike" match, \it was the Trojans who got the last laugh after defeating them in the MVC tournament.
Hoping to get their revenge when they square off again on Oct. 4, Carty said that it will still be a tough matchup for both squads.
"The games are intense, yet a lot of fun because it never seems like either team has a decisive advantage going in," Carty said. "Anything can happen, so it is all about who can handle the pressure the best and execute in those situations."
Reasons for optimism
As much of a team game as volleyball is, it never hurts to have star players that a coach can rely on. For City High, those players are junior Claire Ernst and McComas.
Last season, the duo combined for 546 kills and 49 aces, despite being underclassmen.
As impressive as their seasons were, they have a shot to be even better in 2022, especially as the duo is doing their best to have their chemistry carry over to the rest of the team.
"We have been focusing a lot on team-building," Ernst said. "I think that is going to show up when we get on the court, because everyone can tell how well we work together."
Not only that, but, according to Carty, the team is able to enjoy its first "normal" offseason since the COVID-19 pandemic.
That has allowed the Little Hawks to hold their usual two-a-day practices and workout sessions with much fewer restrictions, further allowing the coaching staff to better develop their players.
Fans will get their first chance to see how much development the team has undergone on Aug. 23, when City High hosts the Cedar Rapids Kennedy Cougars.
This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Iowa City High volleyball has dynamic duo of young leaders