Free State High's girls volleyball team has had a history of team leaders during its brief tenure.
That trend will continue this season.
FSHS senior Joyia Chadwick is the latest in a line of senior standouts that has included Jamie Morningstar (now playing for Kansas University) and Alison Lungstrum (Yale) when the Firebirds' season begins tonight with a home quadrangular.
"First and foremost, she has great talent," FSHS coach Nancy Hopkins said of Chadwick. "She's very good at all aspects of the game she receives well, she hits well, she blocks really well, she's smart, she's a good leader. The leadership is where she'll be invaluable to the team.
"I had Alison last year, and she (Chadwick) is the one who's taken over that role. She's really kind of quiet, but she's kind of taken over that role on her own. I didn't ask her to, she just did. She was the natural person to do that," Hopkins added.
Free State, 34-11 last year, will play host tonight to Shawnee Mission Miege, SM East and SM South in one of just two home meets. The other is Oct. 10 against Garden City, SM Northwest and Kansas City Ward.
Tonight will give Free State fans their first look at the new-look Firebirds.
"It's a little different makeup," said Hopkins, who has taken the team to the Class 6A state tournament two years in a row, finishing second last season. "We're going to have good blockers, but it's not going to be quite like last it was year where we a lot of times just dominated. Obviously, Joyia's going to be huge for us.
"Overall, this group of girls is real talented. If they can stay focused mentally, they'll be OK."
Chadwick, who is listed at 6-foot-2, was an unanimous all-Sunflower League and all-state tournament team selection last season. She also is the only returning regular starter and the highest ranked of the four Firebirds positioned at Nos. 1-4 in the league for blocks a year ago.
After Chadwick, Free State returns just two players senior Erin Wyatt and junior Amy Vormehr with varsity experience.
"It's not like I haven't reloaded before," Hopkins said. "I taught at West Junior High for 25 years and we had successful teams for years. I was constantly reloading there. So it's not like it's something I haven't done before."
Besides Chadwick and Wyatt, the other seniors are Haley Cabay, Katie Rhodes and Caitlin Wisler.
Among the juniors, Gretchen Huffman played varsity last season, while Stephani Heider and Katy Vormehr were on the Sunflower League-winning junior varsity squad.
The lone sophomore is Jayme Lisher, who was a key cog in Southwest Junior High's undefeated season last year.
Free State's schedule is pretty similar to what it has been in the past with visits to the Johnson County CC Invitational (Sept. 16), the Topeka Seaman Invitational (Sept. 23) and the Emporia Invitational (Oct. 14). Free State's lone meeting against Lawrence High will be Sept. 28 at the Blue Valley quad.
What remains to be seen is if a third straight trip to the state tournament will be added to the schedule along the way.
"Win league and sub-state, that's what we want to do because we want to give ourselves the opportunity to go back to state and try to win again," Hopkins said.