Logan • In the spring, the Utah State volleyball team wanted to get as prepared as possible for its first season in the Mountain West.
Of course, getting prepared can be difficult when you have only eight players to field a practice. The Aggies managed to get by the spring by focusing on technique and working to improve the details.
That's why even though now bringing in seven freshmen can be challenging, you won't find coach Grayson Dubose complaining.
"Our team has done a nice job of integrating everybody, and with seven new kids, that's a real challenge," he said. "They don't always perform at the right level, but they always give good effort."
If it doesn't sound like the most sparkling endorsement for a team coming off a WAC regular season title, consider that this isn't necessarily the same team. All-WAC hitters Shay Sorensen and Josselyn White graduated, while two promising freshmen from last year's team, Candace Richins and McKell Staheli, are on LDS Church missions.
But even if the Aggies are bound for some "growing pains" this season, as DuBose called it, he feels like he has a group with a lot of potential.
"Replacing those guys, you just hope you can find kinds who can step up," he said. "I think we have the kids."
There are four returning starters for Utah State, starting with junior setter Paige Neves. Dubose cited her offseason effort in sharpening up her sets as a big reason for optimism. In the middle, Kaitlyn VanHoff returns as one of the top blockers in the conference last season. Ashlan Rogers-Court will head up the defense at libero after getting 413 digs last season.
On flanks, Rachel Orr and Elle Brainard will be counted to replace the spiking power the Aggies lost. Orr was ranked ninth in the WAC in kills per set last season (2.96) and is a returning all-league honoree, while the 6-foot-5 Brainard moves from the middle after earning WAC freshman of the year honors last season.
"It's been fun," said Brainard, who was recruited as an opposite hitter for the Aggies. "It's been a change, because middle and right side are obviously very different. But it's been good."
With so much new talent, newcomers are certain to get some action, Dubose said. Libero Hannah Gleason, outside hitter Kaylie Kamalu and middle Carly Lenzen should all see the court as freshmen.
"They're all super talented," Brainard said. "I'd say we have one of the best freshman classes we've ever had here. They practice hard, and that helps us all out."
The Aggies kick off the season at the Utah Classic in Salt Lake City this weekend, which will feature two teams that won more than 20 games last year (Fairfield and Portland) and the Utes. Dubose compared it to "drinking from a firehose."
"I'm pleased with the effort, not always the execution," he said. "I just have to remember it hasn't been that long. But we're going to go a lot faster."