Despite losing one of its best players from the last four years, the Verona Lady Wildcats volleyball team has a team of experienced athletes returning this season to try to improve on last year's 11-17 record.

At the helm for yet another season with the Lady Wildcats, Coach Brad Stewart sees the positives for his team, the biggest being that it will see five of its six starters from last season back this year.

"The loss of Rita has left a void to fill both in play as a first team all-district and all-conference player, but also a one of the best leaders we have had," said Stewart, referring to Rita Castillo, who graduated from Verona in May. "How much the returners step up their individual games and how we fill that leadership role should determine our success."

With a total of 11 lettermen returning, including the aforementioned five starting players, Stewart sees his team as a potential contender for both the conference and district titles. But just as importantly, he knows those end results aren't all that matter in high school sports.

"We expect our players to work extremely hard and have a ton of fun playing volleyball and being with great teammates," he said.

Meet the team

The returning players to the Verona varsity squad, in Stewart's own words, include:

Hailee Wilkinson (senior, outside hitter) -- "Hailee has taken on a leadership role for our team. Looks to lead our team in kills and will also be among our digs leaders and serve receivers." Carolina Castillo (senior, setter) -- "Three-year leader in assists, she controls our offense and has great overall instincts for the game." Shelby Freiburger (senior, middle hitter) -- "Shelby has improved greatly over the past two seasons and will provide us a player with size in the middle we have not had." Kristen Krueger (senior) -- "Kristen is one of our top severs and provides us with another experienced setter." Ashley Freiburger (senior, setter) -- "Ashley does a great job as our second setter and weakside hitter." Paige Bauer (junior, outside hitter) -- "Paige is one of our best athletes, should be among our top two or three in kills and digs leaders. Paige has shown great improvement offensively this summer." Sydney Gamroth (junior, outside hitter) -- "Sydney is a powerful player both on the attack and serve. Should have a breakout season. Sydney has also shown leadership we need with Rita graduated." Courtney Freiburger (junior, outside hitter) -- "Courtney won our most improved player award and gives us another productive OH." Yoselin Martinez (sophomore, defense) -- "Yoselin is known for her hustle on defense should vie for a spot a back row player" Grace Nelson (sophomore, libero) -- "Grace is expected to play libero for us this year." Alyssa Tosh (sophomore, outside hitter) -- "Alyssa is one of our top young players looking to make an impact for us."

Coach Stewart and the Lady Wildcats will begin the season on September 3 with a trip to Hurley before opening at home September 5.