Expectations high for Trojan volleyball team

With several players returning, Oak Ridge looks to battle with area's elite
By: Brett Ransford/Telegraph Correspondent
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Expectations are high and talent runs deep for this year’s varsity boys’ volleyball team at Oak Ridge. A squad rich in senior leadership, the Trojans have blistered the Sierra Valley Conference – a perfect 28-0 in the last two years – and retained a combined record of 59-13. They have two league championships from four players that are now seniors and have been with the varsity team for now their third season; Jonathan Tuttle, Connor Dunham, Jack Hoisington and Chris Gomm. The only thing missing – a section championship. “I have told this team that I think they have the capabilities of being section champions,” said coach Tom Van Der Wende. “I try not to stress that too much right now, though. I just want to go and get better, team by team and game by game.” The Delta River league added the Trojans this year along with Ponderosa, replacing Monterey Trail and Florin. Having not lost a league game with the star-powered roster Van Der Wende calls on night after night, changing leagues will probably be the least of this team’s worries. Jonathan Tuttle, who committed to California Baptist University on about a scholarship, has taken over as captain following the graduation of Sean Bassemier last season. He and the Trojans dropped Oakmont and Del Oro in six straight games in the first two rounds of last year’s section playoffs, getting knocked out by Rocklin 3-1 in the semifinals. This year, however, Tuttle and Van Der Wende agreed that the burden of leadership falls on the senior captain and his play. “I think a lot of people expect big things from us and rightly so, because we only lost one player [Bassemier] from last year,” said Tuttle. “We need to get our chemistry back to where it was at the end of last year. Right now we’re all coming from different clubs and still getting our chemistry down. But once we do, we should be a very effective team.” The Trojans are already an effective team, having gone 3-0 in matches to start the season, losing just one game in a 3-1 opener at Oakmont. A team that had just one senior last year now has eight and those eight are playoff tested and proven. No team in the Delta River League has more seniors than Oak Ridge, let alone ones with back-to-back playoff runs, undefeated conference play and a roster that lost only one player. “We know our potential and we have a strong group of starters and guys behind them that can go in at anytime. We all feel pretty confident that we can do the job,” said Van Der Wende. “Jon (Tuttle) carries the load of being our go-to guy, which he’s done in the past. He’s one of the top players in the north part of California. We also have guys that compliment him.” Van Der Wende has the luxury of having a team solid in all positions. Dunham is the setter, while outside and opposite hitting is powerful under Gomm, Hoisington and Tuttle, while passing begins with Nathan Lambert. That is, however, only mentioning some of Oak Ridge’s talent. The Whitcombs’, Luke and Mike, at 6’4” and 6’3”, respectively, add blocking and can throw down with the rest of the team. Tim Spykerman is the remaining senior, but even in their latest game against Vista del Lago he pounded out six kills to lead the team. There’s still the sophomore talent Storm Van Soldt, who takes breaks from blocking only to dance after laying down yet another kill on the other team. Connor Blakeman is often the passing talent that ends with a bang. Safe to say, no one questions whether this team is talented or has the resume and club experience to prove it.