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11:49 PM Tue, Sept. 18th

Volleyball preview: Badgers aiming high in 2015

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Prescott's Alex Koehler taps home a winner during a volleyball scrimmage between the Bradshaw Mountain Bears and the Prescott Badgers Thursday night in Prescott Valley.

Les Stukenberg/The Daily Courier<br /><br /><!-- 1upcrlf2 -->Prescott's Alex Koehler taps home a winner during a volleyball scrimmage between the Bradshaw Mountain Bears and the Prescott Badgers Thursday night in Prescott Valley.

PRESCOTT - After a 32-10 season that saw Prescott make it to the second round of the state playoffs last year, the Badgers aren't just aiming for a repeat in 2015, they are hoping to go further.

Junior setter Erinn Marroquin said to accomplish that, the team must come together.

"I think the biggest goal is to connect with the team and just have good energy and good connections with the hitters and passers," Marroquin said after practice Aug. 26, adding that the Badgers have worked hard on their offense during the first few weeks of practice.

"I'd say [our] strengths are probably a quick offense. We're really trying to go just quick to all three positions, to be able to get those connections and get a lot more kills," Marroquin said. "That way the other team won't be able to get their blockers set up."

Fourth-year head coach Shellie Bowman said if the Badgers are to have a great season this fall, the team will need to continue to improve every day in every facet of the game.

"[We need to] stay strong, stay healthy. Play aggressively and play a quicker offense," Bowman said. "We have some really good passing [as well] so I think that's going to work for us this year."

With eight players returning from last year's squad that beat No. 11-seeded Tucson Magnet 3-0 in the first round of the Division II state playoffs, Marroquin said the Badgers are picking up where last year's team left off.

"I wouldn't say [our chemistry] is interrupted, but it is a little bit different than last year. We have one more senior than last year, so we have a little more experience," Marroquin said. "There's a lot of starters coming back, so I would say the energy is pretty good."

That roster depth is something Bowman said will be important, especially its newly found versatility.

"We have 12 girls that can play more than one position," Bowman said. "Almost every single one of them can play up to three, and that's going to make us really versatile."

Top returners other than Marroquin include junior Alex Koehler, who shifts from a middle front-row position to opposite hitter, and senior middle blocker Veronica Norkus.

"We have a really good team and I think we can go pretty far this year," Koehler said. "We have a great front row and [a good] defense, so overall we are [a good team]."

Bowman said Koehler worked hard in the offseason to make the position change.

"She hit the weights in the off-season and is very, very strong, so we're looking for her to make an impact," said Bowman, who added that Norkus' experience has been a big help during the first three weeks of practice.

"This is the third year she's playing middle for varsity," Bowman. "She is quick on her feet, puts up a good block and she's hitting a lot harder this year."

Other top returners include seniors Blake Johnson and Bailey Anderson. Juniors Grace Hendricks, Abbey Smith and Ashlynn Uvila also return.

Uvila returned to practice Wednesday for the first time since rolling her ankle during drills at the beginning of August.

"Today was the first day that she got to come back jumping, so we are really excited to have her back," Bowman said. "She's a big hitter and a big part of our team."

Bowman also said that Smith has an elbow issue, but she should be ready to go next week when the Badgers play their season opener against Cactus Shadows at home on Thursday, Sept. 3.

One player that didn't return this season is senior standout Raphael Temple, who tore her ACL during club volleyball season and is now swimming for the Badgers this fall, Bowman said.

As for the newcomers, which include senior Haley Crozier and juniors Sierra Price, Allie Jo Amos and Karlee Holliday, the transition to varsity has gone smoothly.

"They have all worked really hard," Bowman said. "This is a good group of girls."

Follow Brian M. Bergner Jr. on Twitter at @SportsWriter52 or reach him by phone at (928) 445-3333, ext. 1106, or (928) 899-6946.