Coming off a state championship, Kalama is down their top four players. Toutle Lake graduates its top two hitter and setters. And Woodland, the state runners-up, enter a new era with a new coach.

Southwest Washington’s prep volleyball scene has been a glutton for elite performers of late, but all good things must come to an end. Or so you would think. Consistently coaches find ways to maximize their talent and returning players show what they learned from their elders.

Still, questions burn like wildfire entering 2017: Can Kalama repeat despite significant roster turnover? Will Castle Rock reign once again? Or will the competitiveness of the area at large reveal a hidden gem that triumphs in Lacey or Yakima — the sites of the state tournament this fall?

The Beavers are coping with arguably the most significant turnover in Southwest Washington after 31-year coach Jeff Nesbitt stepped down after showing one last flash of that magic that always had his teams peaking come playoff time. Ushering in the new era is first-year head coach Danielle Hutton, a 24-year-old Mark Morris alumna.

She also meets challenges in replacing libero Emily Wheeler and setter Elle Nesbitt. But it’s not as if the Beavers have never faced transition years and survived, having made the state tournament six years straight.

“We still have a really strong team,” Hutton said. “We have girls who have really stepped up to fill those roles. I’m just embracing the opportunity.”

While Hutton is focused on forming her lineups and getting everyone on the same page, the 2B state champs 8 miles north are regrouping.

“You have to look at it as a whole new team,” 10th-year Kalama coach Jeni O’Neil said. “We’re human, so of course we feel that loss. However, as coaches, it’s our jobs to be teachers. So even as we’re coming off a state championship, I have these girls — some new and some returners — it’s my job to teach them how to get better.”

Castle Rock coach Jeana Bayes knows all too well how to meet turnover head-on and re-tool a team quickly. Bayes’ Rockets won state in 2012, before graduating seven athletes and losing another to a tragic car accident the same summer.

It took Bayes just four years to get her squad back to the state tournament, as her senior-less team made the trek last season.

“Last year I could see the sparkle in their eyes,” Bayes said. “The team has stuck together like glue. You would never know that we had a starting freshman and starting sophomore.”

Kalama would like to respond to a 2B championship with the same success the Rockets have had and that means a new way of thinking.

“It feels a lot different, what makes it feels so different is that people know it’s not the same team without anybody mentioning it,” Chinooks senior Danica Killinen said.

But after losing the powerful leadership of Kaelyn Shipley and Parker Esary, along with rare talents in McKenna LaRoy and Stephanie Paredes, leaders need to step up and guide the youthful squad.

“I think that having turnover, it’s really just the word that has the most impact,” Killinen said. “If we put our minds to it, we can be just as good. If we believe we’re not as good, we’re not going to do as well. But if we believe we are, we will be.”

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Jason is a journeyman sports reporter who has covered the Golden State Warriors, Oakland A's, along with a heavy emphasis on the Oakland Raiders. He comes to Cowlitz County from Oakland, Calif. and is a loving father.

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