Not even the sturdy machine-like Weston-McEwen volleyball team could enter the 2008 season without looking to cover up some holes.

Gone from this year's TigerScots' squad will be Blue Mountain Conference player of the year and first team all-state selection Victoria Thul, fellow first teamer Marie Baumann and Michelle Ward, who was named to the all-BMC second team.

How then does a team fix the missing pieces in the armor? By playing one of the toughest non-conference slates in the state.

After a jamboree in Umatilla, Weston-McEwen will did battle with three class 5A teams from the Intermountain Conference at the Pendleton Invite in preparation for what coach Shawn White believes will be a top-tier BMC conference.

The TigerScots have fared well in previous brutal non-conference stretches and to do so again, the leadership of White's team will have to be ready from the outset.

"It's a process," White said. "But I feel like we have some players who will step up and play well in those positions."

White will carry four captains in '08, Jen Thul, Noel Griggs, Sheridan Cain and Pressley Pahl and all accompanied the team to it's state finals appearance last season.

Having four captains plays exactly into the kind of depth the TigerScots have built their program upon.

"It might even be more (of a strength) this year," White said. "We're going to have a number of girls who take great swings at the ball and we're going to be able to rely on at least six hitters - three hitters at the net at any time - that can take a good swing. We've got good depth."

Middle hitters Pahl and Cain were both unstoppable in the middle and on both the left and right side, the TigerScots go two-deep in returning players.

The two positions White will be replacing this season are at setter and libero.

Victoria and Jen Thul split the setting position last year, and with Victoria's departure, freshman Morgan Entze has stepped into that role.

"She's really coming along well," White said. "She's really starting to do a great job."

Libero is still up for grabs for Weston-McEwen and Baumann will be a tough act to follow. At this time junior Mary Herbes and sophomore LeAnne Harden will continue to battle it out before the position is settled.

Challenging the TigerScots will be a tall task for the teams of the Blue Mountain Conference, but a year ago, Union proved the reigning conference champions are not indestructible.

The Ladycats finished tied for first in the regular season before dropping the tiebreaker game held in Elgin.

Union should be back to challenge for a title behind the arm of outside hitter Jessica Reynolds.

Reynolds was a first-team selection in the BMC and was the most dominant single player on any team.

Enterprise has the height and the experience coming back into the fold to also challenge for at the very least a playoff spot.

The biggest questions surround the health of the team's best big hitter, who could miss time with a wrist injury.

Not to be counted out are Elgin and Heppner, but for different reasons.

The Mustangs graduated one of its most athletic classes in recent memory, including a dominant front line.

To make up the difference, the Mustangs will rely on a host of role players from all classes.

Senior captains Maggie Armato and Sherilyn Peck bring the leadership, while Brynna Rust, Jessica Hughes and Taylor Dougherty all come with varsity experience.

"They all came into camp focused to be the best team in the league," coach Pam Dowdy said. "I like where we're at, even though it's early."

Elgin, though, was young where it counted and the most valuable player on the court, Tara Ludwig is coming into her junior year.

Aside from Ludwig, the Huskies return three seniors with varsity experience and junior Chantelle Malone.

If one were to look for a darkhorse in the conference, it could come out of either Pilot Rock or Irrigon.

The Knights struggled most of last season to a 2-11 record, but have shown much improvement in summer and early season competition.

Irrigon has the same coach back in Jill Wright, which should help in the stability of the program. From last year, just four varsity players graduated and the experience should bolster the squad.

"It's a new group and a different dynamic," Wright said. "We have more underclassmen and that makes a different atmosphere. Not that last year was bad, but they have more confidence this year."

Seniors Christina Garcilazo and Beth Reeves make up the upper-class, with Alisha Wiser playing the role of junior captain. Jessica Henrichs and Ariel Shock are returning setters.

The Rockets are much like the Knights, but with the added bonus of having their leadership roles clearly defined.

Setter Jessica Wallis and middle hitter Brittany Doherty have built upon their experience last season to come into this year as the clear-cut captains.

"They kind of filled that role last year, but have continued to do so, not just with my team, but with the entire program," Deter said. "Not just for the varsity kids, but they've helped to mentor the incoming freshmen and you like to see that as a coach."

Doherty is in her fourth year starting at the middle hitter position and she should have plenty of help along the outside. Also in the back, there is sophomore libero Ashley Gambill, who spent time learning on the job last year.

The Stanfield Tigers bring to the table one of the largest rosters in school history, splitting 24 girls between varsity, junior varsity and a C-team.

Coach Clara Nichols is hoping its the first step to a resurgence in the program, which has struggled to fill 16 spots the past few seasons.

And the roster isn't filled with just warm bodies, either. Tara Nichols, Erica Gehrke, Jade Martinez, Nicole Edgerly, Mikayla Baros, Jessinia Carrillo and Ena Lopez all return with experience and, according to coach Nichols, motivated to win.

"The seniors have been stepping forward and don't want to lose what they've gained the past few years," she said. "We're hoping the experience helps us hit the ground running when games start."

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