Whitefish Volleyball a Favorite Again

By Beacon Staff

It’s clear Jackie Fuller runs a tight ship.

In 19 years of coaching volleyball, 13 at Whitefish, she has tallied 400 career victories. This year, success is still met with sweat.

The owners of five of the last eight Class A state volleyball championships, the Whitefish Bulldogs annually endure the same turmoil: graduation and rebuilding. Integral components are lost, but the Bulldogs – last year’s state runner-up – rarely falter.

“It’s not about me, it’s about the kids and their commitment and their belief in me,” Fuller said. “It’s how hard they want to work. I supply the drills and the shoulder to lean on, but they’re the ones that have to do it.”

The Bulldogs graduated four key players, including all-state hitter Ashley Ferda, but Fuller says four new seniors will take the reins, each in her own way.

Jade Hanson knows how to motivate her teammates; Kate Klundt keeps it fun; Shannon Kabfliesch leads with her actions and McCara Cullen will flat out work hard.

“Success is really going to take discipline,” Fuller said. “They’re going to have to do things just right offensively, but mainly on defense; I firmly believe in defense.”

Elsewhere in Class A, the Bigfork Valkyries will be without the defensive presence of Alyssa Fierro, who led the Northwest A in hitting percentage and blocks with 62 last year. Avery Vogel also graduated, taking 2.46 assists per game, a second-ranked serving percentage and eighth-ranked hitting percentage with her.

The Columbia Falls Wildkats, 6-11 last year, lost Sarah Marcille, who was fourth in the conference in assists per game last year, but will return senior Alyssa Ladenburg and junior Shiloh Knudsen. Ladenburg ranked among the conference leaders in digs and serving percentage last season while Knudsen was fifth in blocks.

The Flathead Bravettes finished second in the 2007-08 Western AA standings at 8-4, and then came in third at state. But they are heading into this season with nearly a whole new team.

“We lost 10 seniors from last year,” second year head coach Leon Wilcox said. “We’re going to get a lot of kids experience this year.”

Seniors Megan Olszewski and Chaela Liss, both returning varsity players, will be expected to lead the young but athletic Bravettes. Much of Flathead’s athleticism will come at the net, where Wilcox will start three girls 6 feet or taller.

Wilcox said Glacier High School shouldn’t be overlooked this year. A year ago Glacier finished near the bottom of Western AA. But this year the Wolfpack has a senior class and a strong group of juniors, led by Emilee Hashley.

“Not only will they have a senior class,” Wilcox said, “but they took some lumps last year and that is going to make them tough to beat.”

Whitefish, state champions in 2001 and 2002, and 2005 through 2007, are the clear-cut favorite in Northwest A, but nothing comes easy when you have a target on your back.

“Our young kids worked so hard over the summer just to be part of this tradition,” Fuller said. “Their commitment will pay off, but it is a lot of work.”