Official practices began for high school winter sports across Missouri on Nov. 2. For Maryville girls basketball, the court lacked the shoe squeaks of a few players. The missing girls can still be found on a court in a Maryville jersey, but instead, they’ll be playing for the state-bound volleyball team.
Despite missing the introductory phases of training, coach Quentin Albrecht is unphased by his athletes’ absences.
“There’s good and bad that go with that, but mainly just good,” Albrecht said. “You know, you always like to have all your kids to start with, just to keep everyone on the same page, but they’ll learn more going down and competing at a championship level than they will in the first three or four practices here.”
Senior guard Serena Sundell is one of Maryville’s key performers who will miss the first week of practices. Sundell realized that this part of her volleyball season will be her last time playing volleyball, so she’s enjoying it to the best of her ability.
Other notable starters aiding in the push for a volleyball state championship are sophomore starters guard Anastyn Pettlon and forward Rylee Vierthaler. With the starters away, the bench can play, which is something Albrecht said he isn’t too worried about.
“The girls that are here can get more reps and different things,” Albrecht said. “I think we’ve got a lot of girls that were young last year that can step up and give us a lot of important minutes this year. I think Kennedy Kurz is capable of helping us out quite a bit this year, and I think Halle Buck and Abby Swink can as well.”
Coming into this season, the Spoofhounds lost two seniors, and Albrecht is looking for his girls to step up and fill their roles. Fortunately for Maryville, this doesn’t prompt a change in play style. If anything, Albrecht wants to see their scheme from last year, but with more speed.
“I don’t know if we’re going to change a whole lot in terms of offensively or defensively,” Albrecht said. “I think we’re going to emphasize some things we’ve always emphasized and do the best with what you have. I don’t look for us to do a whole lot of things differently, but we might be able to pick up the pace of play a little bit because we have a little more team speed, experience and depth going into this year.”
In terms of chemistry, the team is in favorable conditions, as every starter will be returning for the 2020-21 campaign. The bond between teammates has Sundell excited entering into this season.
“Last year helped us grow as a team,” Sundell said. “We did lose two seniors last year, but the other girls, our relationships are already where they were at last year, which really helps. We’re going to be able to take our relationships now and our experience and it’s going to keep growing, which is really good.”
The girls will have to come together as their schedule will host more challenging opponents than in recent history. The increase in schedule difficulty came from Albrecht’s desire to challenge the girls throughout the season. He even quoted Maryville football coach Matt Webb when explaining why he’s not worried about facing more difficult opponents.
“This is the most difficult schedule that the Maryville girls team has had in quite some time,” Albrecht said. “It’s like coach Webb says, ‘It doesn’t say in the rulebooks that you have to be undefeated to win a state championship.’ We really feel that if we’re going to compete at the highest level, then we have to play high-level competition.”
Albrecht said he’d much rather have a worse record with a more challenging schedule than to have a stellar record having played no team that challenged the girls.
Despite the difficulty of schedule, both Albrecht and Sundell are confident in the team’s ability to reach, and surpass, last year’s finish. The ’Hounds battled their way to the state quarterfinals before losing to Macon.
“I want to focus on the team this year and focus on taking us to state,” Sundell said. “I want to do something for this program that can set a tradition for the years to come.”
Sundell’s goals reflect those of her coach, as he wants to take this team to the first state championship in 10 years and win as many games as possible. With a long season ahead, Maryville will have to earn the right to a postseason push with a successful season. Albrecht said the team has to focus on one thing in order to get there.
“We’re here to play basketball,” Albrecht said. “There’s a lot of things going on with COVID, there’s a lot of things going on with the election, there’s just a lot of things going on in society right now. The No. 1 goal is to avoid all the distractions right now and focus on what the job is, which is, we’re here to play basketball.”