By BRETT MARSHALL
Garden City High School's girls volleyball team has come to embrace change with an open-mind and with an air of optimism.
Certainly, this year's seniors have experienced their share of change during their four years of being in the Lady Buffs' program.
When this group of seniors were freshmen, Bob Schmitz was the Lady Buffs' head coach. Then, for their sophomore and junior seasons, it was Sara Stecki overseeing the program.
With the start of the 2013 season now just three days in, the Lady Buffs will once again make the adjustments to a new coach — Shanda Sanders — their third coach in four years.
But that doesn't seem to faze either seniors Jacksenie Tornero, the team's top setter a year ago, or Taylor Linenberger, one of the top hitters, as they begin their final campaign at GCHS.
"It's not been too bad," said the 5-4 Tornero. "It (practice) has been intense at points. We're learning a lot of new things. Everything's different and the situations are different. She (coach Sanders) knows what she's talking about and we trust her. We all know that she's going to make it better for us."
And while there will be plenty of change coming with a new coach — a new system, new drills, new sets, different ways of passing — one thing is for certain. The Lady Buffs have plenty of experience returing to look forward to the Sept. 3 home opener with Salina Central.
"We think we have a good chance to have a really good year," Tornero said. "We all feel pretty positive about it. The technique type of things are different. We're just working hard to get better every day."
Linenberger, a 5-10 performer who made the varsity for the first time her junior year after playing on the freshman and then junior varsity teams in her first two seasons, said everyone liked what Sanders was teaching at their initial practices.
"We're getting used to the things she's teaching because we know it will help us move up a level," Linenberger said. "She knows a lot and she knows how to coach us. She's teaching us great things."
With a strong corps of returners from the last two seasons under coach Sara Stecki, the Lady Buffs will try to take their end of season one step further. Under Stecki, the Lady Buffs captured consecutive Western Athletic Conference titles, posting records of 22-15 and 19-15, but came up short in the Class 6A sub-state championship match each year.
"We're learning different stuff and I think what she's teaching us will give us that niche to go farther," Linenberger said. "We're all just trying to help each other."
For her part, Sanders said she was pleased with the team's hard work and chemistry in the first few days.
"They have an amazing attitude and work ethic, and they have some really good camaraderie," said Sanders, who moved to Garden City along with her husband, Harvey, who is the head women's volleyball coach at Garden City Community College. "We've got some pretty good stuff done so far."
While Sanders can carry a varsity roster with up to 12 girls, she is unsure just how many she will select after tryouts are completed this week.
"It takes six to put out on the court, so we know we'll have at least six," Sanders said with a smile. "We've got some strong competition for the spots, which is good. There's a lot of opportunities for them to implement new information. We really haven't implemented any of the system stuff yet. I think we are running on the theory that less is more right now."
Sanders said she has met with most coaches in the USD 457 system, and has provided them information as to the system she is using at the high school.
"All the coaches have access to the same materials," Sanders said. "Hopefully, what we're doing here trickles down to the seventh grade."
Sanders said she would likely complete the tryouts by the end of the week and then perhaps announce the varsity squad sometime early next week.