The Haines High School volleyball and wrestling teams open their seasons at tournaments this weekend.
The volleyball squad will compete in Wrangell and the grapplers are set to debut in Petersburg.
Coaches for each sport this week cited strong freshman classes, boosted by extra attention at the middle school level.
“Everybody on the team this year has either wrestled junior high or high school,” said coach Dennis Durr. “No one’s new.”
He said his team of about 10 wrestlers will have at least three freshmen – Charlie Bower, Mori Hays and Ketch Jacobson. Durr launched the middle school wrestling program, which has culminated with the annual Floyd Dryden tournament in Juneau the past three years.
Glacier Bear volleyball has an even bigger group of freshmen, with the six girls making up nearly half the 14-person roster. Newcomers include Gabrielle Galinski, Shaye Otton, Bozhi Sebens, Jordan Stigen, Olivia Wing and Kayla Yeoman.
“We’ve got a lot of young girls on the team, and I think it’s going to be the strongest JV we’ve had in a while,” said senior Jamie Messerschmidt. “Varsity, I think we’re going to be a really good serving team this year. Overall, it’s going to be a growing year, but I think it’s going to be successful, too, if we try hard.”
Coaches Judy Erekson and Liana Shull both gave credit to resident Cassie Miller for her recent work introducing middle school girls to the sport. Her program, too, includes a tournament in Juneau. Last April, the team posted a 4-0 record at Floyd Dryden.
“It really did make a difference having the girls come in with some basic serving and passing skills,” Erekson said. “They don’t have a lot of court knowledge yet.”
Durr, who is coaching the wrestlers with Andrew Cardella, noted his team will rely heavily on the senior leadership of Walker Blair and Dalton Tuohy. “Our seniors, this is their fourth year, and these guys have been here since the beginning.”
Last season, Haines hosted the Region V wrestling tournament and placed fourth in the 2A division, behind Craig, Wrangell and Metlakatla.
Then-senior Jimmy Thomsen was the Southeast small schools regional champion at 152 pounds and went on to finish fourth at the state tournament in Nikiski. Other state qualifiers for the Glacier Bears included Josh Stearns, sixth place at 220 pounds and up as a sophomore; and Zane Durr, who posted a 1-2 record there as a freshman.
This year, the regional tournament is at Mount Edgecumbe, and no Haines meet is on the schedule. Coach Durr said the best opportunity to see the Glacier Bear grapplers will be a Juneau event in November. That’s the same weekend (Nov. 22-23) as Haines’ lone home volleyball tournament.
“This is probably our strongest team that I’ve ever seen, at this point, because our numbers are good, and we’re not just all at the same weight class,” Durr said. “This year, we’ve got a couple little guys, a couple big guys and some in-between guys.”
Senior Walker Blair, who went 2-3 on his way to sixth place as a 160-pounder at regionals last year, plans to wrestle at 152 pounds this season.
“We have a way better team than we’ve ever had, and we have a lot of people,” he said.
Blair said he likes “everything” about wrestling, especially “working hard and staying committed and giving everything I’ve got.”
He said the freshmen have adjusted well to the high school level. “It’s a good thing, because they can keep up with all the stuff we’re learning and they can keep up in practice.”
Practices started Sept. 30, and Durr said coach Cardella has been the team’s “technical guy,” helping with “breaking everything right down to the beginning” and “cleaning up our technique.”
Coach Shull said Haines volleyball players also are “learning really fast” and will rely on solid passing and serving to make up for a lack of height.
“We have a really good group of girls,” said senior Coral Bauer. “I think there’s definitely a lot of room for improvement, and we’ve already improved a great deal in a short amount of time. I’m just excited to see how we advance throughout the season.”
The schedule includes trips to Metlakatla and Juneau, plus the Dec. 6-7 regional tournament in Klawock. Erekson said games might be available to watch online at www.hbsd.net. She said there are tentative plans for November games in Skagway against schools from Whitehorse, Y.T.
In 2012, the Glacier Bears went 2-2 at the regional tournament, topping Metlakatla and Hoonah but falling to Klawock and Wrangell. Haines finished fourth in the six-team field. That Haines squad featured seniors Riley Erekson, Samantha Lowe, Karlie Spud and Alisha Young.
Erekson made the all-conference team, along with Libby Jacobson, now in her senior year.
“The seniors, we’ve got a lot of experience, and there’s a lot of young girls with potential,” Jacobson said this week. “I’m looking forward to working with them and watching them get better.”