Leaders pass their skills on to the next class.
Preparing for her fourth season of volleyball at Wallowa High School, Ayesha Wortman has taken younger players under her wing. She teaches a style that's easily overlooked. Obvious last year were the skills on the front line - Brittany Mayton, an aggressive middle blocker, or a powerful outside hitter like Mallory Turner. Meanwhile, Wortman dashed around the back row, dug out hard-to-reach hits destined for the floor and saved the Lady Cougars time after time. She helped Wallowa beat four district rivals.
"With the libero position," Wortman said, "your specialty is making digs and passing the ball. You're the leader of the back row. It's fun. I like it. I'll talk to the girls about my position and give them tips: 'You need to be here in this case, or here in another.'"
Now a senior, Wortman made leadership one of her individual objectives for this season. While playing with Mayton and Turner, Wortman admitted, it was easy to realize the importance of peer guidance on a team hoping for success. Fittingly, she listed another goal for this year: M.C.C., or "motivation, communication, celebration." She also emphasized competing with heart. Likewise, the Lady Cougars voted similar team goals: 1. Non-stop communication; 2. Constant aggressiveness; 3. Focus; 4. Teamwork; and 5. Play with heart.
For an aspect of volleyball that's a little more tangible, Wortman wants all of her serves to result in a playable ball. Those would give the Lady Cougars plenty of opportunities. The group features several girls returning from last year's varsity. In addition to Wortman, coach Terri Wilson welcomes back senior Felycia Gladden, who underwent surgery in March on torn tendons in her right shoulder. Having dislocated the joint several times in 2007, she simply switched to her left arm. At a tournament in mid-August, Gladden finally felt comfortable reusing her right. Meanwhile, senior Judith Shike delivers a potent serve. Last year, she produced many scoring runs including a 13-point sweep at the Weston-McEwen Tournament.
Making up for the loss of Mayton and Turner, the Cougars turn to juniors Meagan McKenzie and Anna Chrisman. The 5-foot-9 McKenzie guards the front line as middle blocker. Chrisman takes over the outside hitter's role. New to varsity last year, both made noticeable improvements as the season progressed.
Also, the setting position is comfortable in the hands of a young duo. As freshmen last year, Kuulei Delatori and Jesica Bingham shared responsibilities of starting the offense. Another pair of youngsters, sophomore McKenzie Shelton and freshman Skylar Waters, appears capable of moving up to varsity.
Full of ambitions going into the new season, the Lady Cougars open Aug. 30 at the Ranger Jamboree in Dufur.