Tonia Burrell's Fort Dodge volleyball team will have a different look this fall.
After posting a 12-25 overall mark last season, the Dodgers return just one starter to their lineup in senior Mackenzie Elsbecker. Burrell must find replacements for 13 departed seniors, including two-time first-team all-CIC Northern Division performer Lexi Astor, who is now a preferred walk-on at the University of Northern Iowa.
"We just need to build that chemistry early on if we want to get a good regional draw and go far (in the postseason)," said Burrell, who is entering her second year at the helm. "Height is definitely not a strong point, but we have a group of kids that is very aggressive and athletic. Our girls are determined to win. We definitely want to use our scrappiness to our advantage."
Elsbecker, a libero, went 142-for-151 serving with 75 digs and nine aces in 65 games as a junior. Classmate setter McKinna Teske was also 42 of 47 from the service line with 39 assists, 17 digs and six aces a year ago.
"We want to run a fast team offense," Burrell said. "One area I'd like to see us get better at is our team communication and talking more on the court."
Junior Kaela Gollob (MH), junior Liza Hatcher (OH), junior Madi Bennett (OH) and senior McKinna Wilson (OH) will see each of their roles expand in 2014. Freshman Beth Murman (MH) could also make a key impact.
"Liza, Madi and McKinna (Wilson) all played a lot in the offseason and last winter," said Burrell. "We're hoping Beth can play well in the middle for us, too."
Other Dodger seniors are Toryn Pederson, Riley Hartman, Cassie Tjebben and Molly Matthes. Juniors Kati Astor and McKenzie Thompson round out Fort Dodge's varsity roster.
Burrell knows her squad will be tested each night out in the CIC. Ames (23-15 overall, 3-0 in the league a year ago) is the defending Northern Division champion.
"Our conference is always tough," Burrell said. "We have to take it one match at a time and one game at a time, focusing on any opponent we play."
Julie Astor, Edgar Baxton and Sydney Weiss will serve as assistants for Burrell.
The Dodgers debut Tuesday at the Dallas Center-Grimes Invitational. Fort Dodge's home opener is set for Sept. 9 against Urbandale. The annual Jackie Wilde Invitational will be held Sept. 20.
"I took the offseason to put in perspective where I want this program to go," said Burrell. "I spent a lot of time looking at areas we need to improve on. I feel reenergized."