READY TO ROLL — El Molino veteran volleyballers Grace McCormick (No. 6) and Sasha Senal (No. 9) are part of a strong core of returnees for the Lions this fall.

The 2019 fall volleyball season could go down as the year of the Lion, if early season projections hold up.

Under returning head coach Becky Sani, El Molino will feature a roster loaded with battled-tested veterans, a team that won’t be satisfied until it brings home a championship pennant.

“Our No. 1 goal is to win league and No. 2, host a home playoff game,” Sani said. “I’d hope that we go far in the playoffs against Division 4 teams. We’ll be a fun team to watch play, so hopefully our gym is packed with fans this year cheering us on because I think we have the team to take the whole thing,” she added.  

The Lions graduated just three players from last year’s 20-13 playoff squad, a team that battled for a league title before settling for second place at 7-3.

Heading the list of returnees are the “big three” of senior outside hitter Sasha Senal, versatile senior utility player Kassidy Sani and junior setter/RS Grace McCormick.

“Sasha is a strong offensive player, who will also play some defense this year,” Becky Sani said. “Grace has a huge vertical and will be a great right side line hitter for us and also one of our top blockers, while Kassidy will be moved around to hit against weak defenses and used to block against good hitters.”

Another player to watch may be last year’s late-season call-up, sophomore Ellie Roan, who should be a formidable foe for opposing teams.

“I’m expecting her to be an aggressive part of my middles,” Coach Sani said. “She blocks really well and we just need to work on her footwork.” 

Although some positions appear set, there are several others that have yet to be determined.

“My libero position is open, and I have my eye on a few players, so we’ll see how tryouts go,” Sani noted. “I’m looking forward to a few of our younger players stepping up to put up some big numbers offensively.”

If things go well, the 2019 season could be the Lions’ last in the NBL Redwood Division, which also includes Ukiah, Piner, Rancho Cotate, Healdsburg and Elsie Allen.

With the league divisions being re-evaluated after this year, look for the Lions to join the top teams in the highly competitive Oak Division in 2020. 

“We’re a team that will be powerful in our attacks, both from the front and the back row this year,” Sani predicted. “We lost some late season games last year due to illnesses and watched the title slip away from us. This year I expect our team to be in the fight for the pennant.”

The Lions will open the fall campaign on Aug. 29 at Middletown (6 p.m.). The annual “Apple Match” against archrival Analy will take place in Forestville on Sept. 17.

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