Ten PCM seniors hope their final season on the volleyball court nets the Mustangs’ first winning season in 10 years.
Top hitter Celeste Wagaman is back as are juniors Claire Wilson and Chelsea Bird, who led the Mustangs in aces and digs, respectively.
“I think a major step in turning the program around is the girls playing volleyball in the offseason,” PCM head coach Mike Vittetoe said. “In the past we had very few girls that played in between seasons. This year, we had more girls playing club ball than ever before. Unfortunately, their season was cut short this year but will pay benefits in future years if that continues.”
The Mustangs were 5-23 overall last year and 1-6 in Heart of Iowa Conference play. They went 5-25 the previous season and struggled through a tough conference slate the past three years.
PCM won 10 matches in 2015 and 2017 and were 10-9 in 2010. They failed to get to double-digit wins in seven of the past 10 seasons.
But having 10 seniors and plenty of experience back should help the Mustangs.
Wagaman led the hitters last year with 121 kills and 22 blocks. She also had 14 digs and five aces.
Vittetoe said a key for PCM in 2020 will be finding other productive hitters to help Wagaman. His leading candidates are Wilson and senior Jacki Vos.
Wilson finished with 39 kills, 89 digs and a team-best 25 aces last season. The 89 digs ranked second on the team. Vos collected 47 kills last year, which ranked second on the team. She also had 25 digs and eight aces.
Other hitters for the Mustangs are seniors Emma Houser, Kassidy Block, Emma Reed, Riley Hjortshoj, Erin VanPeursen and Lilli Baird and sophomore Riley Johannes.
“More people other than Celeste need to terminate the ball on a constant basis,” Vittetoe said. “One of the keys this year is to have a couple more hitters step up.”
Vittetoe said he hopes a few girls separate themselves in the first couple weeks of practice.
If they don’t, the veteran Mustang coach said he will be playing several girls early in the season to see who steps up.
A few positions have been decided. Senior Bella Stone will take over the full-time setting role after Shelby Voeller was lost to graduation.
Bird also is the new libero, taking over that role from departed seniors Meghan Kinnamon and Chloe Inskeep.
Senior Teegan Giles will battle for playing time in the back row in 2020. Sophomore Sidney Shaver is the final varsity player.
Bird started in the back row last year, finishing with a team-best 107 digs, 15 kills and 15 aces.
Stone started a handful of matches when Voeller went down with an injury last year and finished second on the team with 93 assists and 19 aces as well as 52 digs.
Houser added 36 kills, 28 digs and 14 aces and Block chipped in 11 kills, 10 digs and 13 blocks, which ranked second on the team.
The HOIC is always tough but PCM could improve simply by losing North Polk and Gilbert to the Raccoon River Conference this offseason. West Marshall is set to join the HOIC starting this fall though.
Vittetoe was not happy to see two conference schools leave but will welcome West Marshall to the schedule regularly.
“I am not happy seeing Gilbert and North Polk leave the conference. They have some of the best 3A facilities in the state and quality coaches/ADs,” Vittetoe said. “I always enjoyed going there as a coach or a fan.”
Losing Gilbert and North Polk and gaining West Marshall doesn’t necessarily mean more wins, according to Vittetoe.
Nevada begins the season ranked seventh in Class 3A and Roland-Story starts the year 11th.
West Marshall was 15-21 in its final season in the North Iowa Cedar League West Division last year.
“I always enjoyed playing West Marshall in volleyball. They have an excellent coaching staff that I get along with very well,” Vittetoe said, “West Marshall is traditionally strong in volleyball. Sometimes their record is deceiving because they play a very tough schedule. PCM played them in regionals a couple of years ago and they were as good as anyone in our conference at that time.”
Perhaps the biggest challenge for PCM and everyone else in the state will be finding a way to navigate through the COVID-19 pandemic.
Vittetoe is not sure what to think about playing volleyball in the fall and was in favor of the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union moving it to the spring.
He also admits there is probably no more risk playing volleyball than being in the classroom.
“We will be taking precautions to stay as safe as possible,” Vittetoe said. “We will try to keep the freshman, JV and varsity teams separated as much as possible. We will sanitize the volleyballs often, especially after each group practices.
“The school policy is that masks are recommended but not mandatory. Since I am almost 54 years old and have diabetes, I will be wearing a mask at practice and matches.”