Chloe Martindale passes off to a teammate after receiving a serve at McNary’s Blue Day on Friday, Aug. 23. Martindale is expected to be one of the key players for the Celtics this season (KEIZERTIMES/Matt Rawlings).

At first glance, it appears that the McNary volleyball squad wasn’t very strong in 2018, finishing the year with a 5-17 record and going 2-12 in Mountain Valley Conference.

However, the fact of the matter was that many times over the course of the conference season, McNary had strong outings against stiff competition. But the problem was, far too often, the Celtics couldn’t finish the job.

In 10 of McNary’s 12 losses last season, they were able to win at least one set, so one of the points of emphasis for this year’s Celtic team is to make sure they are playing to the best of their ability in matches that go four or five sets. 

“That has definitely been a big part of our focus this season. Our returners have set that as an expectation from the beginning,” McNary head coach Crystal DeMello said. 

Relying on returners will be the norm for the Celtics this season as they bring back six players from last year’s squad — five of whom are seniors. But McNary will also have some notable newcomers that are expected to make an immediate impact.

“I’m really excited about this season. We have a great mix of players that can play multiple positions, which is always great to have that kind of versatility. It gives you lots of options,” DeMello said. 

McNary returns two of the best outside hitters in the Mountain Valley Conference in Taylor Ebbs and Zoie Warner. 

Warner, a senior, has been on McNary’s varsity team in all four years of her career. She has also been recognized as an honorable mention all-conference player for the past two seasons. 

Ebbs, on the other hand, is one of the most dynamic athletes in the MVC — she received all-state honors as a softball player in the spring — and comes into her junior year with two seasons of experience on the varsity team. 

“They are not just strong returning players, they are leaders that have attitude and competitiveness,” DeMello said of her two outside hitters. “Naturally in this sport, the outside sees a lot of action, so having them as assets and being able to utilize the entire front row gives a lot of opportunities for those girls.”

The other big-time returner for McNary is senior Chloe Martindale. 

Last season, Martindale was primarily used as a middle blocker. However, DeMello has different plans for Martindale because of her ability as a left-handed swinger. 

“(Martindale) is a great player. We put her in the middle last season because of her blocking skills. But this year, we’re putting her on the right side to utilize the full skill set that she has offensively when it comes to blocking the opponents outside hitter and using the full array of her lefty shots. We’re super excited because we feel like this is the better place for her to be,” DeMello said. 

One newcomer that this McNary team will be relying on is Maddox Snider.

Snider was the only freshman on the junior varsity roster last season and her versatility as a player will be a huge benefit for the Celtics this year. 

“Snider has come in and put in a lot of work in the offseason. She can play any of the front row positions. But it’s also its her defense and serve-receive that really puts her into the game. Regardless of her age, she will push everyone to be better,” DeMello said. 

Another sophomore, Alexis Eldridge, will be called upon to be a key defensive specialist 

“(Eldridge) is extremely quick and fearless. You have to have that as a young player and I love that about her,” DeMello said. 

With their overall experience and talented new additions, McNary looks to be positioned for a better season in 2019. However, DeMello wants this team’s main focus to be on personal development, rather than wins and losses.

“Every single day, when the girls walk off the court, they are a better player. That’s the goal. We want to know that hitters are getting more shots in their repertoire. And the setters are setting on point and on demand and the defensive players can read and see what’s happening before it happens. That’s the growth you want to see, so if I can see that in November, I will know that we have done our job,” DeMello said.