Lake Stevens’ Lilly Eason attempts to spike a ball with Monroe’s Samantha Zimmerman defending during the Vikings’ five-set victory over the Bearcats on Oct. 20, 2016 in Monroe. Eason and Zimmerman should have their respective teams near the top of the Wesco 4A standings in 2017. (Kevin Clark / The Herald)

Prep volleyball preview: 5 storylines to watch

Here are five storylines to watch from the local prep volleyball scene this fall:

1. Monroe, Lake Stevens will be among Wesco 4A contenders. The Bearcats, who advanced to the 4A state tournament last season, should be strong once again this season despite the graduation of several top players. “They have a great coach in April Munoz who takes whatever she has and guides them to success,” said Kamiak coach Greg Post. “Tatum McGovern is the best setter in the league in my opinion. (Outside hitter) Samantha Zimmerman is also a rising star.” Lake Stevens, which took eighth place at the 4A state tournament in 2016, will be led by Seattle University-bound setter Lilly Eason and outside hitter Hannah Aaenson. “I believe that we are one of the top teams in Wesco and see no reason why we can’t make it back to state this year,” said Vikings coach Kyle Hoglund. And don’t discount Jackson. “Jackson is also a contender,” Post said. “They consistently get 70-plus kids at tryouts, so they have a good pipeline.”

2. New teams could rise to the top in Wesco 3A. Edmonds-Woodway, Stanwood and Snohomish will be teams to watch, according to Marysville Getchell coach Kristina Naff. “(They) have a lot talented returners,” she said. “Stanwood is older and more experienced. Edmonds-Woodway is very scrappy and has some very talented hitters. Snohomish has a very talented program, with tons of potential and an explosive middle offense.” Those teams possess some of the conference’s top players in Saylor Anderson (Stanwood setter), Sandra Yang (Edmonds-Woodway outside hitter) and Rosamund Gillie (Snohomish middle blocker).

3. The top Cascade Conference teams will have a new look. Last season, Archbishop Murphy went 21-1 and took third place at the 2A state tournament. The Wildcats return setter Natalie Hayward, the reigning most valuable player of the Cascade Conference. “We are shaping up to make another deep run in the state tournament,” Archbishop Murphy coach Brandon Jones said. “This year’s team will be led by seniors Natalie Hayward and Payten Bradley. We graduated four seniors from last year’s team but are expecting large contributions from juniors Claire Doud, Caroline Kramer and Emma Feeney. We look forward to our continued tough rivalry matches with King’s again this year.” Cedar Park Christian took fifth place at last year’s 1A state tournament, but also lost some top talent and has a new coach, with Julie Nelson replacing Marni Dreschel. South Whidbey, which qualified for the 1A state tournament last season, returns all-conference outside hitters Emma Leggett and Kolby Heggenes. King’s middle blocker Allison Hansen is another player to watch.

4. Stanwood’s Devon Martinka is ready to step up to the next level. Martinka, a junior outside hitter, has been a member of the Seattle Juniors club team for the past five years. She participated with the club’s U16 squad in the 2017 USAV Girls’ Junior National Championships, held in Minneapolis in late June and early July. “Devon has the height and has learned how to use it to her advantage,” said Spartans coach Megan Amundson. “She contacts at such a high point that there are a limited numbers of blockers that are able to stop her in our league. She has also put in the time to better the rest of her game. From last year’s end of season to this preseason, Devon’s back row skills have grown immensely. She has turned into an effective six-rotation outside hitter. This enables us to utilize her back-row hitting to our advantage as well. (She’s) no longer a stranger to other teams.”

5. New Wesco 4A coaches have strong resumes. Dawn Hanson retired as Lake Stevens’ coach, and was replaced by Hoglund, who served as an assistant coach and co-head coach for the Vikings from 2004-13. “Having the opportunity to come back and coach again is an honor,” he said. “I love to be able to help and watch the athletes grow, not only in the sport but in life as well.” At Glacier Peak, Dave Thorn will take over for Chris Pratt. Thorn has extensive club and college coaching experience, with stints at University of Texas-Pan American and East Central University (Ada, Oklahoma) on his resume.

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