A familiar face for seniors is back coaching the Redmond High volleyball team.

Aaron Mallory was an assistant coach for the Panthers under Lindsey Bogason in the 2015 season, when this year’s seniors were freshmen. It was one of several stops for Mallory, who was head coach at La Pine for three seasons, starting in 2010, and was a junior varsity and varsity assistant coach at Summit before that.

Mallory was most recently coach at Bend’s Pilot Butte Middle School and has also coached club volleyball teams. But he said something drew him back to Redmond.

“Once I had assisted that year, I really fell in love with the town and the group of kids in the program,” he said. “I knew they had struggled for a while. But I remember, back when I was at Summit, Redmond was a very strong program, one we would struggle against. I felt a connection to this group, I felt they were a much stronger program than the record showed.”

Mallory is the third coach some seniors have had in their four years at the school, following Bogason and Kellie Scholl, whose teams didn’t win an Intermountain Conference match in two seasons.

So far, Mallory is pleased with how the team is playing.

“We’re definitely still trying to work on some of our old demons,” he said. “We’re still working on some of the things we’ve struggled with, but that’s going to have to be a consistent battle.”

Though Redmond was ranked 30th of 32 5A teams going into last weekend’s tournament in Wilsonville, Mallory feels positive about the Panthers’ future.

Among the things Mallory has done to try to improve the team is taking some players to a camp in Hillsboro. The message there was to get the team to play as a whole.

“We’re trying to surrender the ‘me’ for the ‘we,’ ” he said.

The Panthers were scheduled to play their first match in their new-look Intermountain Conference Sept. 11 at Pendleton. While the Bend schools have moved up to Class 6A, Mallory said the Panthers will still have their hands full. Along with a loaded Ridgeview team, the league includes Hood River Valley, a 5A state quarterfinalist last year, and former 4A power Crook County.

“First off, we want to put ourselves in position to compete as much as possible,” Mallory said.

Among the Panthers’ top returning players are senior middle blocker Ava Kitchin, senior libero Abby Fabbrini and senior setter Jessalyn Loza, an honorable mention all-league selection in 2017.

The players have enjoyed playing for Mallory.

“He believes in us, he supports us,” Loza said. “He knows Redmond has history. We have the history and the talent, we just have to show it.”

Kitchin sees advantages to the long trips to play league matches. She said it will allow them to focus better.

“Traveling gives us a chance to bond and become closer as a team,” she said.

— Reporter: 541-548-2186, gfolsom@redmond spokesman.com