The Northland Prep volleyball team knew it had some retooling to do heading into the season.
Now three games in, the Spartans sit at 1-2 overall after a 25-19, 25-19, 25-17 loss to the 3A Conference Tuba City Warriors Wednesday night at Northland Prep Academy in the 2A Spartans' home opener.
The Spartans struggled against Tuba City’s strong and technical attack, but showed some life on the defensive end. Spartans head coach Lacey Ebersole has liked what she has seen out of her team early in the 2019 season.
“I thought we played pretty well,” Ebersole said. “Our young girls came out strong and were playing hard. Our returners definitely have stepped up and have been leaders on the court. Maggie Auza was amazing on defense for us tonight. I just thought, in general, we have stuff to work on, but we definitely are on the right track and we are improving every day.
“Tuba is always good, they have really smart hitters and are always scrappy," Ebersole added. "They are always a tough opponent and we always look forward to playing them.”
The squad is working to replace the production from a number of graduated players from last season, namely setter Casey Auza, outside hitter Sofie Linskey, Holly Clark and libero Megan Swinney.
Last season that group helped lead the Spartans to an 11-7 overall record. The Spartans advanced to the quarterfinals of the 2A state tournament, losing to the eventual 2A champion Scottsdale Christian, 3-0.
The Spartans, who reside in the Central Region, still have Maggie Auza, who last season made All-Region Second Team as a freshman after leading her team in kills with 73 and registered a .140 hitting percent for the season.
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So far this season, Maggie Auza has anchored the Spartans attack and has helped her team out defensively. She had 16 digs in the Spartans' loss to Tuba City, while adding in a number of kills against a tough Warriors defense.
Ana Nicole adds a needed veteran presence from her setter position while junior Natalie Hansen gives the Spartans another option opposite of Maggie Auza.
“We graduated quite a few starters; we’re just working on gelling as a team, bringing in the new girls and getting them into the system,” Ebersole said. “I thought our energy was better -- we’ve had issues with energy in the beginning of the season.”
The Spartans struggled with self-induced errors Wednesday night, letting passes and returns get away from them -- giving Tuba City easy points throughout the three-set sweep. At times the Spartans block did well to stifle Tuba City hitters -- which is something that Ebersole wants to see more consistently as the season progresses.
Northland Prep had a number of service errors that killed the team’s momentum multiple times in the loss to Tuba City, but still fared well with service aces when needed. That part of the court has been where the Spartans have seen most of their inconsistency early on, Ebersole said.
“Our serve-receive is still a little shaky and our serves; we need to be a little more consistent,” Ebersole said. “We had a little bit of inconsistency, if we can work on limiting the errors on our side of the court, those are the things we are looking at.”
The Spartans (1-2) host the 3A Page Sand Devils (2-1), Friday at 6 p.m.