After just a short time with having coach Brian Hallmark back at the helm for the Orioles, Augusta’s volleyball squad had a breakthrough 2016 season.

The Orioles got wins against some of the toughest teams they’ve beaten in a long time on way to claiming a share of the Ark Valley Chisholm Trail League-Div. III title with McPherson. They earned a No. 1 seed before poor classifications rewarded them with the always-tough Maize South, which faced a 5A-6A schedule all year.

While the Orioles undoubtedly proved to their foes they will be tough, the team has a lot of work to do to get back to where they were last year. Gone are two incredible, irreplaceable mainstays in Sophia Dalziel and Faith Hallmark, both of whom graduated last spring. Between the power hitting and the control of the offense and effort on defense those two brought, the Orioles will have their work cut out for them.

Though Hallmark doesn’t have Faith on his team, anymore, he certainly has faith in his team.

“We’re going to switch from a middle-hitting team pretty much, and our outside hitters have got to step up,” Hallmark said. “They’re a little older, a little wiser and played a lot more ball in the offseason.”

Kylie McDaniel and Madison Livingston are two key players. McDaniel, now a senior, is one of the tallest players on the team and will be a crucial hitter on the outside. Livingston made huge strides hitting the ball and playing multiple positions last year and will have her role increased this year, too.

“They really do look good. They’ve got to be better this year,” Hallmark said about how he’s counting on them to be leaders.

“I need to get better at passing on defense,” McDaniel said. “I was good, I guess you could say, on passing last year, but I need to continue working on it because I’ don’t think my passing is where it was last year yet.”

Though the Orioles are working new setters into the offense, McDaniel thinks the team will have some fun on offense.

“We’re going to try to do combo plays, work the middle,” McDaniel said. “I think those will be tough, but it’ll get better.”

McDaniel and Livingston both said the team gets along quite nicely and has great chemistry and fun together, which further bonds the team on and off the court.

“All of us are like team leaders,” Livingston said. “We’re kind of a wiser team even though we’re a younger team, because a lot of the juniors and seniors played last year, and we’re continuing on together.”

Livingston said she’s taking small steps to get back into the groove and improve every day, but she will be quite an all-around player. She’ll be a go-to hitter, but she’s confident her passing and defense will continue to improve, as well.

While replacing Faith will be tough, coach Hallmark thinks that youngster Jadyn Jackson should be able to fill in that spot at setter to help lead the offense.

Morgan Pennycuff will step in and try to fill the void left by Dalziel in the middle. She’s learning the position quite nicely early on. The team is focusing on getting her to get her hands on as many hits as possible to help the defense.

“I don’t think we’ll dazzle anybody the first month, but I’m hoping they’ll have to look out for us later on,” Hallmark said.