By Tiffany L. Rehbein
The Chester Coyotes volleyball team has little to do to improve on last year's finish.
But winning the state Class C title would be one of those things.
"We are really looking forward to a good season," said head coach Don Van Dessel, who is in his 14th season.
The Coyotes return 10 letter-winners to a squad that won its 11th straight district title last year. They also won the Northern Divisional title, and finished second at state with a 29-6 record.
Devan Lalum, Megan Mattson, Julie Martin, and Trisha Hilton are all seniors and returners who will help lead the team this year.
Thirty-two players are on the team, with 15 suited out on varsity.
"We have got kids who dedicated themselves to the program," Van Dessel said.
Junior Carlane Jensen, sophomores Michelle Van Dyke, Chasi Buffington, Jamie Graham, Katy Engstrom, and Heidi Cicon also return to the varsity lineup.
Junior Hannah Brown, and sophomores Mari Tempel, Maci Tempel, Mystel McKinley, and Emily Tranberg round out the varsity.
Also, nine freshman are working hard in the lower ranks for Chester.
"There is some talent coming up there," Van Dessel said. "The program will be pretty solid in the future. Success kind of breeds success, too."
With nine sophomores, the Coyotes boast some youth this season.
"We have a lot of young kids with a lot of athletic ability," Van Dessel said.
Van Dyke stands at 5-foot-10, Cicon is 5-foot-11, and Jensen, the junior, is 5-foot-10.
"We have good overall height and team quickness," Van Dessel said. "They are solid fundamental players and work well together as a team."
The Coyotes had an opportunity to see the quickness and unity at the Chinook Showcase, an opening-season tournament held on Dec. 17-18 at Chinook. Chester and Stanford were the only Class C teams at the 10-team tournament.
"We saw a lot of great competition and we got a chance to see our young kids," Van Dessel said. "It was a super opportunity for us to play with that competition."
Chester fell to Stanford in pool play Friday. Stanford is rumored to be one of the top teams this season. The Coyotes then defeated Class B Shelby 15-11, 15-12, but went on to be downed by Class B Chinook, 15-11, 15-3.
However, Chester redeemed itself with a 15-11, 15-13 win over the Sugarbeeters of Chinook.
The Coyotes fell to Choteau 15-10, 15-12 and split with Cut Bank 15-7, 16-14. Chester then split with Malta 15-7, 13-15 to close the tournament.
"Practice is really tough to simulate a game situation," Van Dessel said. "Now, we go back to the fundamentals and keep prepping."
The varsity returns to action Thursday, Jan. 6, when they host Blue Sky in District 5 action at 7:30 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 8, the Coyotes travel to Box Elder for play at 10 a.m. and 11:30.
The C-squad and junior varsity will compete Saturday, Jan. 8, when they host the Class A Havre Blue Ponies beginning at 10 a.m.
6 -- Blue Sky, Home, 7:30 p.m.
8 -- Box Elder, There, 10 a.m.
13 -- Fort Benton, There, 7:30 p.m.
14 -- Big Sandy, Home, 6:30 p.m.
20 -- J-I, Home, 6 p.m.
22 -- Shelby, There, 7:30 p.m.
27 -- K-G, There, 7:30 p.m.
28 -- Sunburst, There, 7 p.m.
29 -- Power Showcase, TBA
4 -- Big Sandy, There, 6:30 p.m.
5 -- Box Elder and Rocky Boy, Home, 10 a.m.
12 -- K-G, Home, 7:30 p.m.
18 -- Blue Sky, There, 7:30 p.m.
21 -- Sunburst, Senior Night, Home, 7 p.m.
23 -- J-I, There, 6 p.m.
2-4 -- District, J-I, TBA
9-11 -- Divisional, Chester, TBA
16-18 -- State, Lewistown, TBA