Grand Island Senior High’s Grace Johnson is one of four returning starters for the Islanders. (Independent file photo)

The seniors on the Grand Island Senior High volleyball team set a goal to be better each day.

Islander coach Bill Root said he has seen improvement each day with all of the practices so far this season.

“If we can improve every day in some little part of the game, that’s a good sign,” Root said. “That’s our goal. After all the practices, I feel we’ve improved every day in a lot of areas, whether its hitting, blocking, defense, setting and all that. I feel every little part of the game is getting better.”

The Islanders return seven letterwinners and four starters from last year’s team that went 6-20.

“We have a lot of experience and they’ve put in a lot of time,” Root said. “We have two or three kids that played part time but did get some experience too. And we have five seniors who are really good leaders and they’ve done a good job in doing that so far.”

Emma Hilderbrand and Grace Johnson return as the two Islander middle blockers. Hilderbrand led Grand Island with 166 kills and 45 blocks, while Johnson chipped in 117 kills.

“We went to them a lot last year and we look to do the same thing again this season,” Root said. “They are getting more and more consistent in every practice but the big thing is that they are getting more and more confident.”

Tori Hale is a returning setter for the Islanders who dished out 237 set assists. Lilly Reed is the other returning starter who had 39 kills. Anna McCoy and Calyn Haubold are the other seniors who were part-time starters for Grand Island, while sophomore Ella Beckstrom was the other letterwinner.

“Tori is a worker and she’ll do anything for you. She’s put in a lot of time and she has the experience of being on the court as well,” Root said. “Anna has improved leaps and bounds in every part of the game. Hopefully she can play well on the outside for us. Calyn will be a defensive specialist for us and she’s been doing well.

“And Lilly has played both middle and rightside for us. We can switch her if we need to. But she is getting better and is hitting the ball harder and higher. Ella was a spot player for us and she’ll be our second outside hitter for us. She’s very competitive and I’m excited to see what she can do on the court.”

Katie Wemhoff, Jill Rose, Camaron Pfeifer, Maddy Hill and Kaylee Hemingway are other players Root sees that will get some playing time.

The Islanders will run both a 5-1 and a 6-2 this season, with Hale being the primary setter and Pfeifer being the second setter.

Just like any other year, Root said first contact will be key for the Islanders, just because they won’t be very tall. They have two players on the roster that are 6-0.

“With our size, our first contact has to be good and we have to live on the edge on serving,” Root said. “We have six really good servers right now that are willing to do that. They don’t get scared. And we have to ball handle well, especially against the good teams or else we’ll struggle, just because we won’t be very tall.”

With all that in mind, Root said it should be a good season for the Islanders.

“The chemistry is very good,” Root said. “It’s a fun group to coach. I’ve been pleased with what I’m seeing so far.”

The Islanders open with the season at Lincoln East on Thursday, then head to Lincoln for a triangular with Pius X and Gretna on Saturday.

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Sports writer, mostly in volleyball, cross country, wrestling and track and field, for the Grand Island Independent for seven years.

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