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Trust, hard work fuel Milwaukie volleyball hopes by Jim Beseda

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vb 8.23

Milwaukie High School seniors Jo Oingerang and Citlala Penaloza have promised to stand by one another no matter what happens this high school volleyball season.

They hope the other Mustangs are ready to do the same.

“I expect everybody to be on their game and just go out there and kill it and give it everything they’ve got,” Penaloza said. “If we put in the effort and stick together, even if things go bad, well still have one another.”

Oingerang saw communication and trust as two key factors as the Mustangs wrapped up last week’s first week of training camp.

“Definitely, the trust needs to be there,” Oingernag said. “It’s one thing to communicate, but we have to trust that someone will be there to get the ball when we need them.

“I understand that no one is perfect and we’re not going to get every ball, but if we can learn from our mistakes and stay together as a family, we’ll be fine.”

Considering what Milwaukie’s volleyball program has been through in recent years, the Mustangs have nowhere to go but up.

In seven seasons as a member of the Class 5A Northwest Oregon Conference, the Mustangs have compiled a 12-122 record overall and 7-95 in league, finishing last in the conference four times and tied for last three times.

Milwaukie coach Melissa Brant has reasons to believe the Mustangs are good enough to avoid the cellar this season.

“I think we’re going to turn some heads this season,” said Brant, in her fourth season with the Milwaukie program and second as varsity head coach. “That’s my biggest goal for these girls — turning some heads and showing that we’re not the bottom of the pack anymore.

“For us, we’re going to celebrate the small victories. It may not be a ‘W,’ but maybe we take a team to four or five games, or it may be that we score 23 points and hang with one of the tougher teams. That’s the stuff we’re looking for this year.”

The Mustangs return four seniors — Justine Brown, Ayhanna Greene, Oingerang and Panaloza — from last season’s team that finished 2-17 overall and 1-13 in league.

They also bring back a key junior in Lexi Thompson, and two sophomores who both saw significant varsity playing time last season in Brynn Castro and Maria-Lucia O’Doherty.

McKenna Galyon, Chelsea Susemiehl and Kila Ung each earned promotions from the junior varsity, rounding out the Mustangs’ top 10.

Lexi Perez would have made 11, but the sophomore defensive specialist was lost for the season after undergoing reconstructive knee surgery last month to repair a torn left anterior cruciate ligament.

“The girls have been working really, really hard, conditioning and getting themselves prepared,” Brant said. “We’ve spent four years now, growing that trust and sense of family, and I think they’re ready to really show what they have.

“Hard work doesn’t pay off over night. It takes time. It may take a season. It may take two seasons. Whatever it is, they’re going to see that payoff.”

Brant insists that Milwaukie’s recent struggles have done little to temper how the Mustangs go about their business.

“To be honest, whether you’re the low man on the totem pole or the top team, you’re still pushing your kids all the same,” she said. “You’re pushing them to be better, to be stronger, to be faster, to be quicker. First and foremost, we have to buckle down on defense to stay in games and then push our offense to give other teams a challenge.

“For me, I don’t run a practice any differently than I think anyone else would as far as working on technique and pushing my girls, just because we’re not a top-ranked team. We still push. That’s how I get them to be better. And I challenge them every single practice to push a little harder.”

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