At this point, talk of the Class of 2021's potential has hung around for multiple volleyball seasons.
Now, six experienced Fort Calhoun seniors want to deliver on it.
“What needs to happen to make myself happy is getting to districts,” Alivia Cullen said Monday before adding to her point. “Winning districts.”
Overall, coach James Slie's volleyball team returns seven players who started matches in 2019. Several members of the senior class, including Ellie Lienemann, Rianna Wells, Kaitlin Smith, McKenna Greenwell and Cullen, have played varsity for much longer than that. Lienemann and Greenwell, in particular, found playing time from the first time they stepped out onto the court as freshman.
Senior Megan Johnson has vast experience, too, though she played softball last fall. Underclassmen Olivia Quinlan and Molly Bales also return starting experience.
All of that on-court maturity, mixed in with some solid newcomers, makes Slie believe his team could be onto something this fall.
“(You) should see a well-blended team that has experience playing together, and if they put their heart into play they could be very successful this year,” the coach wrote this preseason.
The Pioneers, who were 14-17 last season, believe their exhibition match last week against Plattsmouth displayed what's different about the 2020 team. FCHS trailed 2-1, but won the next two sets 25-21, 15-12 to win the game.
“It really showed us that we're getting better at staying positive and picking ourselves back up,” Lienemann said. “Because in recent years, our past three years, we'd get down and lose games.”
Against the Blue Devils, though, the Pioneers remained confident in their abilities after falling behind.
“We have developed that over these last three years,” Cullen said.
“We finally got it down,” Lienemann added.
The five-set win, which won't count toward FCHS' season record, came at just the right time, too.
“That was a really big eye-opener for us,” Cullen noted.
“It was good because it was right at the beginning of the season,” Lienemann said.
So, now, the senior Pioneers are focused on putting their experience to good use against the teams on their schedule. Greenwell is a school record-setting libero, Lienemann is a returning Nebraska Capitol Conference honorable mention recipient and Cullen was dominant at the net against Plattsmouth. Wells owns the school record for set assists in a season, Smith has been a constant on the floor and Johnson is back after a year away as well.
“I'm excited for this year,” Cullen said. She and her teammates are after as many volleyball wins as they can get before graduation next May.