CEDAR RAPIDS — With a 7 p.m. court time Monday, the Xavier Saints had to be one of the last teams in the state to officially begin the 2019 high school volleyball season.
“Part of it was work-related (for the coaches),” said Austin Filer, the Saints’ fourth-year head coach. “Plus, we want the kids playing at a time they’ll be used to for matches.”
Last team starting now. Last team standing in November?
That’s the mission.
“In everything we do, we’re training to win a state championship,” junior all-stater Eve Magill said.
The past three seasons, the Saints have been in the neighborhood. They were Class 4A state semifinalists in 2016 and 2017, runners-up to Dubuque Wahlert last year.
“I think we’ll be better,” junior setter Jazmine Yamilkoski said. “I’m so excited. We have so much chemistry. Eve has gotten so much better.”
Magill is a 6-foot-5 outside hitter committed to Creighton University. At 4.10 kills per set last year, she’s the first option, but far from the only one.
“We have a lot of terminal hitters,” Filer said. “Julia Shoger is going to surprise you. She might be the best blocker we’ve ever had.”
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In Magill, Yamilkoski and Katy Garrison, Xavier returns three key starters from a team that compiled a 29-9 record last year.
And the Saints got stronger with the addition of Elyse Winter, who transferred from Cedar Rapids Kennedy.
“She’ll be a six-rotation player,” Filer said. “She leads by example and is super coachable.”
Yamilkoski said, “Elyse will blend in perfectly.”
Players arrived at the gym Monday in various hues of shirts. White, pink, navy, gray. No rhyme or reason to who wore what. All had the same Xavier logo on the front.
Ron Thillen Gymnasium was full of squeaky shoes and chatter. The latter was mandatory.
“Way too quiet,” Filer yelled after the first drill.
Another must was a parade of high-fives before each water break. Monday’s practice was dedicated, Magill said, to two players — Stella Bernard and Taylor Marlin — that are out with knee injuries.
“We’re going to be more team-oriented this year,” Magill said.
And more defensive.
“We’re stacked in the front row,” Magill said. “You can’t train height. You can train defense.”
Only twice in the 49-year history of the state volleyball tournament has a Metro team walked away with a championship. Kennedy won the title in 1979 when it was a one-class event, and Marion captured the 3A title in 2008.
This Xavier team has title potential.
“Austin brings it up all the time,” Yamilkoski said. “If we’re doing a drill, are we doing it at a state-championship level?”
The Saints open the season Aug. 27 at home against Iowa City Liberty.
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