The culture is changing at Woodridge High School when it comes to the volleyball team.
"I think this is the best that Woodridge volleyball has looked in a really long time, so I’m definitely excited," second-year head coach Katie Cicione said. "I think the girls have really bought into everything that I did last year. That’s really set the tone for the future."
Before the Bulldogs focus on what lies down the road, though, there is a 2019 season to play.
Last year’s team finished 9-14 overall and 7-7 to finish in fourth place in the Portage Trail Conference Metro Division, two spots better than the previous season.
"Our whole starting lineup is returning from last year and I think that puts us ahead of a lot of other programs, especially in the Metro," Cicione said. "Last year, we finished in the top half of the division and this year, our goal is to place in the top three."
Leading eight returning letter winners is junior all-around player Mya Lathem, who has started on the varsity team since her freshman year.
"Mya is the player who kind of holds the program together," Cicione said. "She’s very athletic and very versatile. We can put her anywhere on the court and she’ll produce."
Seniors Lily Bowman, the team’s libero, Jacierra Arnett, a middle hitter, and Bailey Thompson, a right-side hitter, will play key roles for the Bulldogs.
"Lily takes care of our communication on the court," Cicione said. "She plays well with everybody in the back row. Our strong point is our defense and our defense doesn’t succeed without Lily.
"Jacierra has been on the varsity team since her freshman year. She just works hard every single year. She’s a huge middle blocker.
"Bailey is very versatile, can play wherever on the court. She’s a great leader, too."
Also contributing will be junior setter Alyssa Speakman and freshman outside/right-side hitter Anna Laczo.
"Alyssa is the person who runs our offense," Cicione said. "She’ll be a big part of what we do this season. She is just really good for the game of volleyball. She’s able to adapt to whatever team we’re playing and always succeeds.
"No matter where you put Anna, she succeeds. She competes really well and reads the court really well. We’re excited to have her on the team this year."
Three juniors who will play large roles in Woodridge’s fortunes will be defensive specialist/setter Sarah Abood, defensive specialist Jordan Ritterbeck and middle/outside hitter Bella McBride.
"Sarah is our leader," Cicione said. "Putting her athletic ability aside, she’s all about the program. She’s super versatile too.
"Jordan is a really good server and defensive player. She has a positive attitude. She also has a very good volleyball IQ.
"It doesn’t matter where we play Bella, she succeeds in the position. She has a really heavy-hitting arm, and she’s real strong."
Team captains will be Bowman, Arnett and Thompson. Cicione’s assistant coach will be Sara VanDeusen.
According to the head coach, the Bulldogs’ main competition in the Metro will be Coventry and Norton.
"We split with Norton last year," she said. "I feel we can compete with both teams."
Woodridge is scheduled to open its season at Revere Aug. 20 at 7 p.m.