Varsity girls’ volleyball sets up for an exciting new season

Chloe Craft

After a year and a half of empty stands and non-competitive practices, varsity girls’ volleyball has finally returned to the courts. The team played against University High School in San Francisco on Tuesday, Aug. 24. Despite a few unexpected challenges, including a sprained ligament in the second set and a loss in the third set, the varsity team pulled through with a strong win at a final score of 3-1. Standout players included Jaden Hendrickson with a total of 5 kills and Brooke Leslie with a total of 7 kills. Aside from the obstacles, their victory proved that the shutdown restrictions on Redwood athletes last season failed to impede on their skill and ambition. Head coach, Ursula Gruenert, expressed pride in her athletes’ persistence and hopes that it will be enough to bring them back to their competitive level.

Starting off the first game of the season, Jordan Vasquez serves the ball to University High School on Aug. 24.

“I think we did well given the circumstances of what happened with injuries and everything. The fact that our team was able to come together and even lose a set, but still come back and win the match, regardless of the injury, is really cool,” Gruenert said. 

Due to the Covid-19 safety orders implemented during the 2020-21 school year, their previous season did not feature any games that met the level of competition Redwood varsity volleyball is used to. 

“It’s really exciting to have the girls have the opportunity to actually compete against different schools other than [those] in their league,” Gruenert said. “I think the buildup of it all made it that much sweeter, from not really being able to have a real season to now having a relatively normal season.”

The return to a more ordinary season revived not only the joy of renewed team spirit, but also the competitive drive that so often propels Redwood athletes to victory. Junior player Katelyn McKnew said she is confident in her team’s ambition and skills going forward.

“I’m hoping to beat [Marin Catholic (MC)] this year. That’s our main focus for this season,” McKnew said. “MC is our biggest competitor and has been our biggest comeback competitor for the past couple of years, and they are pretty well-matched with us. [Since], a lot of [Redwood and MC athletes] play club volleyball together, we all know each other and it does get very competitive on the court.”

Many athletes were not able to practice over the summer due to the shutdown of public gyms and summer camps, but McKnew was grateful to have her chance to play and prepare for Redwood’s varsity season through her time practicing at Absolute Volleyball Club.

 “Last year we didn’t have a real season, but I was playing at clubs, so I was able to stay in shape for this upcoming season. I think high school has way more spirit [compared to club]. It’s definitely more of a family, and being with younger girls is super exciting and fun,” McKnew said. “I’m all for Redwood spirit and I’m super excited to have crowds.”

The team huddles up to talk strategy before the final set of the match.

Fortunately for McKnew and her teammates, audiences of peers, parents and fans are set to return during the last week of Aug. The games are still in compliance with Covid-19 guidelines, encouraging players to wear masks on the court and enforcing social distancing. Sophomore player Jaden Hendrickson, a standout at the Aug. 24 game on account of her 5 kills, is optimistic about the season moving forward.

“It feels good [to be back]. I’m excited to be on the court and have people watching,” Hendrickson said. “I think it’s going to be a really good season. We have a really solid team with a really good group of seniors… I’m just really excited to see how far we can go.”

Redwood varsity girls’ volleyball faces off against Cardinal Newman High School Friday, Sep. 3 in Santa Rosa at 6 p.m., followed by a game against Sacred Heart Cathedral Preparatory in San Francisco on Friday, Sep. 10 at 6:30 p.m. and a home game against Novato High School in the Redwood Phil Roark Main Gym on Wednesday, Sep.15 at 6:30 p.m..