Cougar volleyball team has some unfinished business
     2016-08-12      By Media Report    editor@geringcitizen.com
Courtesy photo Gering’s Lauren Shaul passes the ball during practice last week. The WNCC volleyball team will have two weeks of practice before school starts. 
When Maraea O’Connor left the NJCAA national tournament last November, she already knew what she wanted to accomplish the next year – make a return-trip to the championship and finish business.

The Cougars returned to the court for pre-season practices August 2 with that goal in mind.

“It feels nice to be back on the court. I missed practice, being with the team, and just back in our groove,” the sophomore middle hitter from Hilo, Hawaii, said. “We started off a little rough, but now we know what we need to work on before our first games. We are working on that now.”

Last season the Cougars finished 42-5 and came oh-so-close to the school’s third national title. That heartbreaking loss to College of Southern Idaho still weighs on the minds of the sophomores.

“That [losing the championship] was not a good feeling but we know how much work and effort it takes to get there,” O’Connor said. “We want to do it again, but we want to win. Constantly, it is in the back of my mind. Everything I do at practice is to get us to that championship game.”

This year’s Cougar team will have its own flair to it. WNCC returns just five players back from a year ago while welcoming 10 new faces.

The five returners along with O’Connor are Kaylee Spreier of Gering; Alwaise Villa of Honolulu, Hawaii; Barbara Briceno of Lima, Peru; and Lara Picht of Brandenburg, Germany.

Still, O’Connor sees plenty of talent in this team.

“I think we have a lot of talent,” O’Connor said. “I definitely think we have the potential. It will take some time for the incoming players learn the way we do things and the kind of offense we run. Once they get that, we will be set.”

The freshmen talent is loaded. The Cougars have two area players in Gering’s Lauren Shaul, a 5-7 defensive specialist, and Kimball’s Danika Daum, a 6-foot setter.

Also, comprising the newcomers are Biatriz Berti, a 5-foot-7 setter from Sao Paulo, Brazil; Genesis Benitez Fontanez, a 5-foot-2 libero from Caguas Puerto Rico; Larissa Perez, a 6-foot-1 middle from Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; Brooke Kaawa, a 5-foot-9 middle from Honolulu, Hawaii; Joise Maldonado, a 6-foot-3 outside hitter from Toa Baja, Puerto Rico; Kadara Marshall, a 5-foot-9 hitter from Hilo, Hawaii; and Kirstee Trees, a 5-foot-5 defensive specialist from Riverton, Wyoming.

The Cougars will have two weeks of two-a-days before school starts on Aug. 15. During those two weeks, O’Connor said the focus is just working on team chemistry. “We are focusing on just meshing,” she said. “We have to learn to play with each other, get to know one other and our tendencies.”

The Cougars will hold a scrimmage on Aug. 17 against Eastern Wyoming College and officially open the season on Monday, August 22, when they travel to Cheyenne to face Laramie County Community College and Western Wyoming Community College.

O’Connor can’t wait. “We have a lot of potential to be really great and could be a championship team,” she said.

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