More positive results appear to be on the horizon this season for the Fort Dodge Senior High volleyball program.
After finishing 9-24 overall and 1-4 in the CIML Iowa Conference last fall, the Dodgers will look to turn the page behind a group of five returning letterwinners.
"With most of our roster being upperclassmen, we do have a lot of experience coming back," FDSH head coach Toni Cochrane said. "We have a good nucleus to build around."
Juniors Tiana Mericle, Lexi Astor and Ashley Altman and senior Abby Shimon each made key contributions for the Dodgers at different points a year ago. The 6-foot-0 Mericle, a first-team all-conference pick in 2011, tallied 98 blocks and 70 kills last season.
Astor collected 45 kills, 30 blocks and went 40-for-45 serving, while Altman notched 54 blocks, 45 kills and was 32 of 35 on serves. Shimon added 47 assists, 31 digs and went 99-for-108 behind the service line.
"I think we'll be better offensively than some of our teams in the past," said Cochrane. "Tiana is a quick true middle blocker. Lexi and Ashley will also need to step up and take on leading hitting roles."
2012 FORT DODGE VOLLEYBALL
Seniors - Morgan Bowman, Mariah Knutson, Ashton Pederson, Abby Shimon, Mariah Welter.
Juniors - Ashley Altman, Lexi Astor, Maddie Egli, Kari Grindberg, Jessica Krause, Tiana Mericle.
Sophomores - Molly Matthes, Hailee Richardson.
Freshman - Jaci Cochrane.
Aug. 21 - at Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational, 4:30 p.m.; 25 - at Ames Invitational, 9 a.m.; 28 - West Des Moines Dowling, 7:30 p.m.
Sept. 4 - at Waukee, 6:30 p.m.; 8 - at Osage Invitational, 9 a.m.; 11 - at Des Moines North, 7:30 p.m.; 15 - Jackie Wilde Fort Dodge Invitational, 9 a.m.; 18 - Ankeny, 7:30 p.m.; 22 - at Cedar Falls Invitational, 9 a..m.; 25 - at Johnston, 7:30 p.m.
Oct. 2 - at Marshalltown, 7:30 p.m.; 9 - at Perry Invitational, 4:30 p.m.; 11 - Mason City, 7:30 p.m.; 16 - Ames, 7:30 p.m.; 22 - Regional tournament.
Supplying Fort Dodge with a dependable veteran supporting cast are seniors Morgan Bowman, Mariah Welter, Ashton Pederson and Mariah Knutson and juniors Maddie Egli and Kari Grindberg.
"We should be really scrappy defensively, and we have a lot of good ball handlers," Cochrane said. "Maddie is back in her setting role and does a nice job of running the team as a quarterback out on the floor. She really brings a lot of positive energy to the team."
Cochrane's most pressing task will be replacing a class of nine seniors, including all-conference nominees Reigan Branderhorst (348 assists, 266-for-291 serving), Sarah Holm (107 kills, 107 digs), Haley Rustvold (107 digs, 62 kills) and Aspen Stephan (48 blocks and 32 kills).
Steadier play at the net will be a major factor in any Dodger success this fall.
"Our hitters just need to become more consistent," said Cochrane. "We obviously want to get more kills and make fewer errors."
Competing for a title in the newly-formed Iowa Conference Northern Division is a top priority for Fort Dodge. Last year's CIML Iowa champion Ames (27-12 overall in 2011), Marshalltown (19-22) and Mason City (12-23) now round out the four-team conference after the departure of Waukee and West Des Moines Valley.
"We definitely expect to be right in contention for the conference crown," Cochrane said. "Our goal is to finish with at least 18 wins, which to me would be a great season."
Assisting Cochrane once again are Edgar Baxton, Tonia Burrell and Julie Astor.
FDSH debuts tonight at the Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational. The annual Jackie Wilde Fort Dodge Invitational is set for Sept. 15.