After struggling last season and falling in the second round of the sub-state playoffs, Spearville High School head volleyball coach Syble Thompson said she expects this season to be different.

There were a variety of reasons the team didn’t advance further last year.

Youth and inexperience were key ones, Thompson said. In some cases, players spent 2017 learning positions they hadn’t necessarily played a lot prior. In others, players had been moved up from junior varsity to varsity.

But Thompson doesn’t expect this year to be a repeat of 2017.

“This year should be a different story,” Thompson said. “We’ve got some veterans in there, some kids that experienced something in the past, but I’m looking to this year as being that year that we have been working towards.”

That could lead to a run at least to sub-state. Thompson said she has three or four juniors who have been getting experience with the varsity team since their freshmen years. However, for the team to find success, they’ll need to them to step up.

“I guess my expectations are looking at kids stepping up and assuming roles that I guess they were young in previously and just learning them,” Thompson said.

Hitting has been the Lancers’ strength historically speaking, she said, and this year is unlikely to be different.

“We’ve always had hitters,” Thompson said. “We’ve always had kids that can step in and control the ball, so I think hitting will be our strength this year.”

With that being a strength, Thompson said her focus will be mostly on another aspect of the game this season.

“I’m going to try and focus a little more on defense because I think that’s what wins games for people,” Thompson said. “Just from experience with my kids we’ve always had hitters, but our weakness has always been our defense, so I’m gonna try and put a little more focus on defense just so that we don’t have to rely so much on our hitting.”

As fun as hitting may be for the players, it’s also important the team become more well-rounded because of how teams are adapting to playing against the Lancers.

“That’s what everybody wants to do, everybody takes pride in getting that big kill, getting that big swing,” Thompson said, seemingly suppressing a laugh, “but the teams that we play against, that we’re hitting against, are picking up our hits, so we’ve gotta be able to contend on the defensive end of the court.”

There isn’t any one matchup she’s looking forward to, she said, because the league they play in, the Southern Plains - Iroquois Activities Association is an extremely competitive one.

“I don’t take any team lightly,” Thompson said.

The top six teams or so are pretty evenly matched Thompson said. Teams like South Central, Kiowa County, South Gray, Ingalls and Minneola all make the league a gauntlet to get through.

Last season, three schools from the league made it to the state playoffs. Fowler lost in pool play of the 1A DII playoffs. Kiowa County lost in pool play of the 2A playoffs. South Central made it the furthest, falling in the 1A DI state Title match to Centralia by scores 25-17; 26-24.

“Basically we don’t take any team lightly because at any point in time any team can step up and be beat,” Thompson said.

With all the talent in the league, Thompson said she would rank her team fourth, fifth, or sixth of the 11 teams in the conference.

“The league will be very interesting this year,” Thompson said. “Even though it will be interesting this year, I expect our girls just to step up and just give the best they can give.”

The Lancers open their season on the road against Cimarron on Aug. 28.