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Bump, Set, Spike - Bruin Volleyballers Set The Table For Success
Nestled in a tidy circle surrounding coach Lisa Mila in the northwest corner of the Ray Fauria Memorial gymnasium, a collection of 24 varsity and junior varsity volleyball players at Riverbank High learned what was expected of them this year during a team meeting on August 10.

The message was detailed but simple - dedicate yourself to this team and represent Riverbank with pride.

Between schedules, uniforms, grades, expectations, conduct, camaraderie, teammate support, and coaching style, there wasn't much Mila didn't explain during the first week of the Lady Bruins' preseason practices.

And while Mila covered her bases by discussing the mental aspect of the game, there was no worry Riverbank athletes were lacking in physicality.

The 2012 Bruins stayed busy during the offseason with conditioning and weight lifting nearly every day of the summer. It was the type of devout training that has built high hopes for outside hitter and senior captain, Amy McDonald.

"We practiced in the gym almost every day and worked out in the weight room and the track, even running the bleachers," McDonald said. "I think we have a strong defensive team and it's going to be a pretty good season."

McDonald, the sister of Bruin graduates Jessica McDonald and Tim McDonald (assistant volleyball coach) is a three sport standout on campus, a potential candidate for the 2012-13 Riverbank News Female Athlete of the Year.

In addition to volleyball, the basketball (winter season) and softball (spring) standout balanced preparation for all three sports during a summer dominated by training, and relishes the upcoming season.

"It's hard to play all three sports," McDonald admitted. "It's a lot of work and you have to be eligible no matter what.

"I get no breaks."

McDonald is one of five key varsity returners hungry for a chance to right the ship after an 0-12 run through the ultra-competitive Trans-Valley League in 2011.

Much of Riverbank's success at the net will rest on the lanky shoulders of junior Kendra Garcia, now in her third season at the varsity level. Her experience and athleticism (she's also a talented high jumper) should prove formidable.

The team also returns junior setter Ally Heredia, senior outside hitter Raine Gallagher and senior libero Erica Cisneros. Juniors Chloe Arnold and Tony Adams expect to see contributions after success at the junior varsity level and former libero Brittany Cody (junior) should compete for time despite taking the 2011 season off.

The team doesn't sport the power of 2012 graduate Katie Mitchell (middle blocker) or the savvy ball control of fellow grad Megan Larson (setter/hitter), but depth and athleticism should make the team quite competitive if the pieces come together.

"I'm excited for the season," Mila said. "This is my first season with a solid group where every position has a backup.

"I have high expectations for this group and we should be competitive."

Winning games in a conference perennially dominated by Escalon, Ripon and Hilmar won't be easy. Ripon appeared in five straight Sac-Joaquin Section title games since2006, finally winning a section title in 2010. A coaching change and the departure of key graduates left the Indians with a 1-1 finish in the 2011 postseason, while Escalon (12-0 in the TVL) qualified to the SJS semifinals. Hilmar was 9-3 (tied with Ripon) a season ago, and expects to challenge for a league title in 2012 after returning four of their top six starters, including junior sensation Alexis Alvernaz, who managed team highs with 217 kills, 78 aces and 354 assists in 2011. Hilmar also returns their top blocker and digger from 2011.

Escalon returns all but two key members of their 2011 roster, but said goodbye to top server/setter Shaylynn Beam and kill leader Megan Faria. Ripon graduated their setter (Madison Allen) and top hitter (Paige Horwood) as well.

"Obviously our competition is very tough," Mila said. "Escalon and Hilmar are powerhouses right now. I think we should be able to hang with the other teams. Ripon will be tough."

The Bruins are at Beyer on Aug. 21 for a foundation game that will not count toward the team overall record. Their first official contest will come during the Johansen tournament on Aug. 25. Riverbank opens league by hosting the reigning champs, Escalon, on Sept. 13.