PAXTON — Returning most members of a sports roster from one season to the next can be a harbinger of success.
It helps, of course, if those involved previously experienced positive results.
Paxton-Buckley-Loda volleyball coach Lindsay Stalowy isn’t lacking in either department heading into the Panthers’ 2020 campaign.
“This may be the most returning players I have had while at PBL,” said Stalowy, about to enter her sixth season. “But, on top of that, (they’re) probably the most talented returners I’ve had as well.
“So we’re hoping this quarantine kind of goes away and we can enjoy our season.”
IHSA summer contact days already are suspended amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Whenever Stalowy’s crew can get back together, it’ll be minus two seniors and one regular starter from 2019.
PBL retains nine Class of 2021 athletes, not to mention a four-strong Class of 2022 that includes reigning News-Gazette All-Area volleyball first-team pick Addison Oyer.
“Our coach told us how strong we were (in the 2019) season and that this will carry on into next season,” said Oyer, a 6-foot outside hitter. “We’re going to be as strong as we were last season — maybe even more strong.”
Oyer isn’t the only reason the Panthers feel they actually can improve upon a 30-6 record that resulted in a Class 2A regional final appearance.
But she certainly plays a big role in that confidence after averaging 4.45 kills per set as a sophomore. It also helps that Oyer consistently has upperclassmen to seek out for guidance and support.
“When I started varsity, really, as a freshman, I had so many years to grow with these players,” Oyer said. “We still are growing our relationship, and now this next year we’ll be even stronger. And when you have a good relationship with the players off the court, it’s even better on the court.”
Abbie Schmidt and Jolee Hastings are the two outgoing PBL volleyballers, with Schmidt serving as one setter in a 6-2 rotation — six hitters and two setters.
Beyond that, Stalowy anticipates keeping the rest of her typical lineup intact.
Upcoming senior Makenna Klann was the second setter last season.
Fellow rising seniors Hannah Schwarz and Jasmine Miles resided in the middle of the floor.
Oyer and senior-to-be Baylee Cosgrove operated as outside hitters, with upcoming senior Brooke Walder situated as a right side hitter.
Senior-to-be Makayla Klann was the libero, upcoming junior Carly Mutchmore was a defensive specialist and junior-to-be Kendra Johnson saw front-row repetitions because of her blocking abilities.
That’s clearly too many athletes to occupy the hardwood at one time. A perfect problem for Stalowy to contend with.
“They’re tight-knit,” Stalowy said. “The care that they have for each other makes it fun, and they’re competitive — each and every single one of them. I think they like to compete with each other because it is fun.”
The Panthers loved competing with — and defeating — numerous opponents last year.
After an 8-0 start to its slate eventually led to an 11-4 ledger, PBL went on a 14-match tear in which it swept 10 bouts.
The only outings the Panthers lost from Sept. 25 onward were a 2-1 decision to Beecher on Oct. 19 and a two-set regional championship match to Unity — which won 32 matches itself.
“It gave us a lot of power and confidence to get ready for next season,” Oyer said. “Now we’re going to think about that last regional game against Unity and how much we want to beat them, because we know we can. ... We started strong, and we’re going to finish strong.”
The first barrier to that mission comes in the Panthers being able to actually work together. The ongoing pandemic makes it unclear when that might happen, and statewide club volleyball isn’t happening these days either.
Stalowy is taking a calm approach to the fluid medical situation.
“I don’t want to get ahead of myself and start pumping out workouts and practice plans,” she said. “This is a group that is active regardless, so I know I don’t have to worry too much. The only thing that’s on my mind is are (my players) happy and healthy right now.”
Even with the 2020 season’s final status uncertain, Oyer seems in good spirits.
Perhaps part of that comes from knowing last year’s 30 wins allowed her to be part of a program record-breaking effort in that category.
The team Oyer and her pals replaced atop PBL volleyball’s all-time victories list was led by her mother, former Panthers coach Kristin Oyer.
Coincidentally, the last time PBL won a regional title was in 2004 — during a brief break in Oyer’s 13-year tenure.Can these Panthers snap that drought?
“This group can go the whole way,” Stalowy said. “Our biggest issue is getting that first, initial breakthrough. I think if we win one regional, that’s the success we need under our belt to push forward.”