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Young Bruins are on the ascent

Despite losing all six starters, Bear River is aiming to return to the playoffs
By: Todd Mordhorst Journal Sports Editor
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LAKE OF THE PINES — The Bear River High volleyball team was agonizingly close to earning a trip to the postseason in 2008. And the cruel reality of graduation claimed eight players from coach Matt McDonald’s roster, including all six starters. The quest for a playoff berth began anew this week. McDonald broke in a young, but talented group. The Bruins are already thinking playoffs even before the regular season begins. “Playoffs, that’s what we’re striving for,” junior setter Liz Runne said. “The The optimism comes from four seniors looking to take Bear River back to the playoffs for the first time since 2006 and a group of youngsters anxious to prove themselves at the varsity level. McDonald is hoping freshman Sara Schell and sophomore Katie Tomkiewicz can step in and provide some offensive punch for a team that was based on its defensive prowess last season. “We’ve really focused on our serve-receive the last couple years,” McDonald said. “Some of our young players can really hit, so we’ve changed our philosophy a little. We have a completely different group and a little more of a power game this year. That’s where our young players are going to take us.” The defense should still be stout. Senior Courtney Ochs leads the way. “She’s kind of the mental rock of the team and one of our hardest workers,” McDonald said of the defensive specialist. Junior libero Laura Daniels is also an anchor in the back row with her ability to get to the ball quickly. McDonald said Daniels might be the Bruins’ best all-around player and will be a strong all-Pioneer Valley League candidate. Senior middle blocker Liz Phelps is a second-year varsity player and should be a factor in the middle with her size and athleticism. Runne is the Bruins’ floor leader, taking responsibility for the flow of the offense. “My role is to keep everyone together, keep the offense going,” Runne said. “I just put the sets there and the hitters put it down for the kill. I just try to help it all flow together.” Junior Carly Corippo is an athletic outside hitter and middle blockers Christie Nat and Mackenzie Clapper are in the mix at the net. “We have more height, more to work with this year,” Ochs said. “I think we’re getting more trust in each other and we have a lot of faith in what we can do.” The Bruins are flying under the radar in a league that has developed into one of the best in the area since McDonald took the helm in 2007. Defending champion Placer is the favorite in the PVL, but Colfax, Whitney and El Dorado are also serious threats. “We’re one of the youngest teams in the league,” McDonald said. “I think our strength is our juniors this year and I’ve come up with those girls as freshmen and sophomores. They’re like 42-9 over the last two years, so they know how to win.” Bear River may need to improve on last year’s 21 overall wins to break into the 16-team playoff bracket. By McDonald’s estimation, the Bruins needed one more win in PVL play after going 7-5 last season to make the postseason. “I think this year we need to go about 8-4 in league,” McDonald said. “Our goal is to end the playoff drought.”