For a coach who lost six starters to graduation, Desert Vista boys volleyball coach Ryan Tolman is certainly optimistic as the season begins.
Maybe part of that attitude comes from being able to tap into a pretty good volleyball gene pool.
Senior outside hitter Michael Tilleman comes from a long line of Desert Vista athletes, and junior outside hitter Andrew Gott has some volleyball blood in his veins, too.
He is brother of Anna Gott, a superstar on the Thunder girls volleyball team who graduated last spring then went on to win the 18-and-under Amateur Athletic Association Junior Beach Volleyball national championship last summer with Desert Vista teammate Betsi Metter.
“Andrew maximizes everything he’s got and will probably be one of best players,” Tolman said. “And Michael, who played in the middle last year, has come out of his shell and will be a very good player.”
However, among the players Tolman lost was John Sheen, an experienced setter for the Thunder.
“He was one of our best players last year and an intricate part of the team,” Tolman said.
This season senior Scott Gavin is stepping into that setter role.
“Scott has some experience,” Tolman said. “He’s played some club ball and is one of the most competitive kids I’ve ever seen and that’s saying something. He wants to win and if he’s good, we’re going to be good.”
The Thunder also will have 6-foot-4 outside hitter Sean Coffinger, a multi-sport athlete who has excelled as a quarterback for the Thunder, in basketball and as a volleyball player.
“That’s pretty special,” Tolman said. “He’s big and getting stronger every year. And to compete at that level in so many sports, he knows what to expect.”
Although some players on this season’s Thunder team will see more varsity playing time than they have in the past, Tolman feels confident in their skills learned through playing club volleyball.
“We’re diamonds in the rough,” Tolman said, “but if we don’t have any injuries and with the experience they have in club ball, we should be pretty good.”
This season Desert Vista has moved out of the Central Region and into the newly formed Fiesta conference where the team will play the likes of Phoenix Brophy, Chandler, Mesa and Chandler Hamilton.
“That’s going to be a little different for us,” Tolman explained. “It’s a tough region so it will be a challenge.”
And Desert Vista opens the season against rival and two-time state champion Mountain Pointe on March 9 at Mountain Pointe.
The Pride were also hit hard by graduation.
“We always have to worry about Mountain Pointe,” Tolman said. (Pride coach Fred Mann) always finds kids who can play.”
Desert Vista gets a chance to smooth out what kinks there may be when they play in the preseason Wolf Howl tournament this weekend in Chandler.