WORTHINGTON -- Playing volleyball as a team appears to be the focus for Worthington High School as heads into a highly competitive 2019 season.

Sometimes, the 2018 Trojans were their own worst enemies, said veteran head coach Jessica Hogan. But with several experienced players returning this fall, and with a renewed spotlight on teamwork and communication, optimism reigns.

“Some of our weaknesses (last year), we thought were self-imposed. Things that we can improve on ourselves,” Hogan said.

One of the team’s veteran players, senior Madisyn Huisman, agreed. “We’re trying to win more games. Trying to be more focused as a team this year, and not just individuals.”

Worthington finished with a losing record last fall, but numbers probably don’t tell much of the story. The Trojans competed in a traditionally tough Big South Conference (which figures to be every bit as tough this year), and they exhibited pretty fair athleticism on the court. But volleyball puts a premium on movement and communication, and too often the Trojans happened to lose their polish. As Hogan called it: not just the physical piece but also the mental piece of the game.

The Trojans think they can get it back. There are six seniors to lead the way, plus a few less experienced but obviously talented players to provide support.

Huisman, a 5-9 hitter, is a versatile front row player whether used on the left or the right side. Payton Sauerbrei, a 5-6 back row player, gives WHS solid court coverage and strong serve receiving. Another back row player, 5-6 Kara Thuringer, is a vocal leader. Maya Scheitel-Taylor, at 5-10, is another hitter with good versatility. Gracie Barber is a 6-0 hitter and an improved blocker. And Jordan Scholes, a 5-5 back row player, is described by Hogan as the ultimate team player.

Several others will vie for playing time, including 5-6 junior setter Steph Bauman, 5-8 junior setter Brianna Veen, 5-8 junior hitter Sophie Wietzema, sophomores Brooklyn Scheitel-Taylor and Olivia Hayenga, and freshmen Ellie Weg and Tarryn Spartz.

Hogan believes the Trojans will exhibit improved ball control in 2019, demonstrating a more consistent ability to “take control of our own side of the court.” Serving must continue improving, she said, and serve receiving, too.

“We have a great core returning. Experience is a great thing when you can learn from it and use it,” said the coach. “I think this group has really matured a lot, and they’re ready for the next level of volleyball.”

The Trojans open regular season action Thursday against Heron Lake-Okabena/Fulda at Okabena. Soon after that, they’ll begin seeing how they measure up in the Big South Conference.

“Our conference is one of the best, I think, in the state. Just a lot of consistency there, with great programs. You gotta be ready to play every night,” Hogan said.