A new era of Dodger volleyball

Tonia Burrell is looking forward to what lies ahead in her first season at the helm of the Fort Dodge volleyball program.

After previously serving as an assistant to long-time head coach Toni Cochrane, Burrell takes over the reins of a veteran Dodger roster.

Last fall, FDSH finished just 8-27 overall. The Dodgers prevailed in only two of their final 19 matches.

“This is basically my dream job, and I’m very passionate about volleyball,” said Burrell, a 2001 Fort Dodge Senior High graduate. “I have high expectations for every level, so I’m not just worried about the varsity.

“I want to improve our mindset and focus. We need to become smarter volleyball players and work hard on the fundamentals every single day.”

Seniors Lexi Astor, Tiana Mericle, Ashley Altman and Maddie Egli will be the focal points in the Dodger attack.

Astor, a unanimous all-division pick in 2012, went 147-for-171 behind the service line a year ago, while pacing FDSH in kills (147), digs (114) and aces (25) to go along with 30 blocks.

Mericle, a 6-foot middle blocker, delivered 116 kills and 96 blocks – including 70 of the solo variety – en route to earning a spot on the all-division second squad as a junior.

“With both her blocking and hitting ability, I’m expecting big things from Tiana,” Burrell said. “We also want Lexi, an outside hitter, and Ashley, a right-side hitter, to go out and take control of the game.”

Altman (137-for-159 serving, 142 kills and 44 digs) and Egli (298 assists, 215 of 233 on serves and 24 kills) each received honorable mention all-division recognition last season.

“We definitely need to build team chemistry,” said Burrell, who also assists Andi Adams with the FDSH softball program. “I feel like our girls are going out with a lot of fire so far (in the preseason).”

Other familiar names back in the mix for Fort Dodge are senior Kari Grindberg (104-for-113 serving and 97 digs in 2012) and junior Molly Matthes (124 of 132 on serves and 73 digs).

“(Playing time) is still kind of up for grabs right now. Nothing is set in stone,” Burrell said. “Girls are going to have to prove they deserve to be in (the lineup).

“I’ve opened up the competition to all grades, so everyone has an opportunity to step up and show what they can do.”

Building some early momentum will be crucial.

“We’re hoping to jump right out of the gates and get after it,” said Burrell. “Our girls feel they have a lot to prove.”

Burrell envisions a wide-open CIC Northern Division race. Defending league champion Marshalltown (22-17 overall, 3-0 in the CIC Northern Division a year ago), Ames (23-15, 2-1) and Mason City (12-21, 1-2) round out the conference.

Assisting Burrell will be Julie Astor (junior varsity), Edgar Baxton (sophomores) and Jolene Hays (freshmen).

“I have a lot of respect for Toni and Andi, so I’m going to take those experiences (from volleyball and softball) with me as I build my own program,” Burrell said.

FDSH opens its 2013 campaign tonight at the Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational. The Dodgers will make their home debut on Sept. 10 against Waukee.

Fort Dodge hosts its own Jackie Wilde Invitational on Sept. 21.