Prep Volleyball

Mid-Columbia Conference is taking shape

It’s always nice to be at the top, but in high school sports, everything goes in cycles.

For the Southridge volleyball team, three years of sitting at the top of the Mid-Columbia Conference have come to a screeching halt.

Gone are outside hitters Jordan Mix and Alyssa Palmer. Libero Makenna Behrens has moved to outside hitter, and the Suns (3-2) are thin on depth.

“I think it is evident each year that the top teams change,” Southridge coach John Lengphounpraseut said. “Chiawana has an upper edge. They have more experience coming back like we did the last three years. We are at the middle level now, and we are trying to get them more court time. Every coach wants to win the league.”

Entering tonight’s matches, Richland and Chiawana are sitting pretty at 5-0 in the MCC standings. The two Class 4A powerhouses don’t meet until Tuesday — the last match of the first half of the season.

“We just have to keep improving,” Richland coach Bob Raidl said. “I wasn’t sure how good we would be because we have so many young kids. We have four seniors. I was hopeful because we played so well in the summer. I expected Chiawana and Kamiakin to be strong. Kamiakin is always big and athletic. John L. has a young team at Southridge. The second half will be a dogfight.”

Riverhawks coach Jim Steach figured Richland, Pasco and Kamiakin would contend for the top spot along with his team.

“Richland has more depth than anyone else,” Steach said. “If someone isn’t playing well, they have someone else to put in.”

Kamiakin (3-2) and Pasco (2-3) both pushed Chiawana to five games before the Riverhawks pulled out the wins.

“We very easily could be down in the middle if we hadn’t made adjustments,” Steach said of his teams’ matches with the Braves and Bulldogs. “It was just a matter of Kamiakin and Pasco winning one of those games.”

Pasco, which lost to Chiawana on Tuesday, will play tonight at Kennewick.

“We are shaping up nicely,” Bulldogs coach Jackie Fluaitt said. “A key is to stay healthy and keep focusing on the process and not worrying about the outcome.

“I knew Richland would be a tough contender — they build great teams. Chiawana is another great team. Jim (Steach) is strategic.”

The Bulldogs, who advanced to the 4A regionals last year, have a strong presence at the net in Catelyn Linke and a good supporting cast with outside hitter Ashlin Orosco and setter Victoria Estes.

“Last year, we were lucky,” Fluaitt said. “No one expected us to do well. This year, we have things to live up to. We started off a little bumpy, but we are working it out. The whole league is playing great volleyball. It’s great to be a part of that.”

Kamiakin has ruled the roost for many years in the MCC, but it has a different look this season. Morgan Schauble took over for league matriarch Mary Opitz, who stepped down after last season.

Schauble was the Braves’ freshman coach the past four years and played for Opitz at Kamiakin.

“Mary was my mentor,” Schauble said.

The Braves lost all-conference players Andrea Stapleton, Rachel Leshikar, Dani Burke and Nicole Lee, but the cupboard was not bare when Opitz left.

Allison Stapleton, Leanna Shymanski, Madison Judy and Brianna Esvelt bring the height and power at the net, while Kennedy Sarver has done an admirable job setting.

“We value hard work in practice,” said Schauble, whose team is at Southridge tonight. “That’s how you win games. I knew Richland would be a tough team, and Chiawana and Southridge are strategic. Our players know what is expected from each team.”

Hanford and Kennewick each are 1-4 as the first half of the season winds down, while Walla Walla is 0-5.

The Falcons have surprised a few teams early on with their gritty play.

“I’m very proud of how they are doing,” said Falcons coach Nichelle Meador, a 2005 Hanford graduate. “They are starting to believe in themselves and what they are doing. I think they are starting to enjoy it a lot more. We took a game off Richland, which gave our girls a lot of confidence.”

Annie Fowler: 509-582-1574;; Twitter: @TCHIceQueen