Queen Creek volleyball looks to build on 5A success heading into 6A slate

Queen Creek senior Kate Grimmer swats the ball over the net during the 2017 season. (Photo Courtesy of QCHS Athletics)

After coming close to summiting the 5A state playoffs a year ago, the Queen Creek High School volleyball team is back with confidence, key returners and a new playing landscape.

The Bulldogs fell 3-1 in the 5A state finals a year ago. Since that time, they have lost five seniors, including setter Kennadee Coplen, to graduation and have made the leap to 6A after the Arizona Interscholastic Association’s recent realignment through 2020.

But Queen Creek still has leading hitters Jaelyn Hodge, a junior, and Kate Grimmer, a senior. Head Coach Erica Crismon said both players were a big part of the Bulldogs’ state finals push last year.

“It’s huge for us because they’ve been there and they’ve done that and they know what it’s like so they can coach those other players through it,” she said.

Hodge said she recognizes her responsibilities in helping the younger players and could play out as a team strength.

“A lot of us played on varsity last year and we have experience with that,” she said. “I think that’ll help us this year, teaching the others who came up this year to work harder and to be more competitive.”

Along with Hodge and Grimmer, the Bulldogs feature several other returners, such as senior Ashley Martin and junior Savannah Bloom, all of whom helped secure wins over top-ranked Chaparral High School and No. 4 seed Notre Dame Preparatory in the playoffs.

Having those accomplishments behind the Bulldogs, along with returners, gives them confidence, Grimmer said.

“I think it shows that we have the potential even though we graduated five seniors, we still have it and I think we can do good this season or just as well (as 2017),” Grimmer said.

Queen Creek junior Jaelyn Hodge goes up for a hit during the 2017 season. (Photo Courtesy of QCHS Athletics)

This confidence spreads to the top as Coach Crismon says she believes Queen Creek can still be one of the top teams in 6A, but will have to play through several big schools that pose bigger competitions. This leads into the team’s main goal for the season.

“There definitely are going to be some teams that are bigger and better than us,” she said. “We want to just make sure that we are competing, no matter who we are playing.”

Heading into that competition, the Bulldogs will play with a new setter in the mix. Sophomore Jaden Drollinger was the team’s backup setter last year, and has been putting in work this year, but Coach Crismon is also looking at another option.

She plans to start the season running a 6-2 offense, which would force Grimmer to set when she’s on the back row. This formation would also allow the Bulldogs to run a taller lineup since 6A features some tall teams, Crismon said.

Switching setters from a year ago can be tricky, Grimmer said, because the entire offense is centered around a setter, much the same way a football offense revolves around the quarterback.

Coach Crismon echoed the sentiment and added the Bulldogs have an extra layer of preparations since Grimmer is typically not a setter. Throughout the transition, Coach Crismon said Grimmer has been putting in a lot of extra work, practicing with the hitters in depth.

“Her hitters trust her,” she said. “They think, ‘yeah Kate might not be a setter but she’s an awesome player.’ They know that Kate is going to do the best she can at any given moment.”

Queen Creek is in a region that features three teams that made it to the 6A playoffs last year: Corona del Sol, Mountain Pointe and Desert Vista high schools. Corona del Sol was the No. 2 team in 6A and fell in the state finals.

Faced with this slate, Coach Crismon said she still likes who she has on court for her team because of the way they play volleyball.

“Just the actual, physical skills of these girls is really impressive and it’s fun,” Coach Crismon said.

The Bulldogs will begin their 6A journey Tuesday, Aug. 28 at home against Shadow Ridge High School. Their first region game is Wednesday, Aug. 29 at Corona del Sol in Tempe.

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