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Redskins volleyball look to fresh faces for leadership

Head coach Jackie Litwiller said a “new chapter” for the Morris varsity girls volleyball program will begin with its season opener Tuesday at Plainfield South.

The Class of 2013 arrived in the program at the same time Litwiller took over as head coach. Outside hitter Kendall Korte already was a varsity regular during that 2009 season, and Katie Chatten took over as the primary setter by the following year. Four players from the class, Chatten, Korte, Laney Torkelson and Marcella Toups got scholarships to play college volleyball.

With those players and fellow graduate Heather Dergo gone, practice has seemed slightly different to Litwiller than in past years.

“We’ve done a good job of setting the standard now, so the girls know what to expect, and those girls kind of led by example,” Litwiller said. “So, hopefully now the next groups that are coming through are going to continue that. It was a little weird coming in the gym this season without any of them, but there have been some definite stepping up by the other girls.”

Three returning players – outside hitters JoAnna Nowicki and Kailyn Korte and libero Morgan Hussey – were in the regular rotation for Morris by the end of last season. Nowicki played in 72 sets as a sophomore in 2012, totaling 111 kills and 152 digs. Kailyn Korte, a sophomore, appeared in 16 sets late last year, recording 19 kills. Hussey, a senior, played in 88 sets and totaled 274 serve receptions and 291 digs.

Nowicki expects to have a larger role on and off the court this season than in the past. She said she is focused on helping Kailyn Korte adjust to her first full varsity season.

“I’ve watched our juniors and seniors as they’ve graduated, and I’ve become more like them, sort of, per se, like picked off what they were giving,” Nowicki said. “They were all very positive. Outside hitter Kendall Korte, she was very upbeat. She’s like, ‘Hey, shake it off, you’re fine. Just keep going and keep working hard.’ ”

Chatten’s graduation almost led to a positional change for Hussey, she said. A setter throughout junior high and into her freshman year, she was moved to defense as a sophomore and has remained there since. The Redskins will go with senior Austin Thompson and junior Taya Torkelson at setter and leave Hussey to head up a defense that features seniors Daisy Gonzalez and Kirsten Galloway and juniors Alex Kjellesvik, Amber Misek and Tiffany Gonzalez.

“I take pride in my defense. I like defense. I feel very comfortable as a defensive player,” Hussey said. “I’ve kind of got out of the setting role, so I was a little anxious to be in that. I am very settled and comfortable in the back row, so I do like my defense.

“[With experience], you know what the speed of the game is, but I think that a lot of our other passes could do the exact same thing. They could step up on a day where someone’s off, maybe. We have a lot of potential in our passers.”

Senior Abby Baker will be joined by juniors Emma Thomas and Morgan Spencer at middle blocker. Senior Cara Cummings will hit on the right side.

“We have a lot of rebuilding to do, but I think we still have a lot of talent, and we have a lot to build on,” Hussey said.

Litwiller said Morris will not be the only team in the Northern Illinois Big 12 Conference East with unknown qualities.

“I’ve been trying to kind of look around at the conference,” Litwiller said. “We have a lot of new coaches this year, so I’m not exactly sure what the programs are going to look like because I know there’s a lot of new faces that we’ll be seeing. Some faces returning in different capacities. It’s kind of anybody’s ballgame.”

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