Volleyball team hopes to win it all this season


Photo credit Clyde Click

After getting to the finals against tough competition and going 32-13 throughout the entire season last year, the varsity volleyball team was riding high going into the 2015-16 season. The varsity team added juniors Liz Bailey, Claire Corbin, and Mary Tucker, as well as freshmen Ansley McNeel and Maggie McSwain. The VolleyCats also lost many key players such as Jacqueline Baltz, Mallie Egan, Kerrie Greene, Mason Rooney, and Mackenzie Shannon. After a seemingly slow start to the 2015 season, many wondered if the VolleyCats could turn it around and continue their historic success.

The Cats started the season 7-11, but the team quickly turned it around, winning the regional title. After defeating Blessed Trinity in the finals of the regional tournament, the Cats went on to beat Ringgold High School and Haralson County High School in the first and second rounds of the GHSA tournament.

Going into the quarterfinals of the tournament, the VolleyCats’ record is a strong 27-18, not far behind their previous year’s record. Both players and coaches stressed the unimportance of their record.

“Our record will inevitably show our growth as a team, but our ultimate goal is the state championship match,” said junior player Liz Bailey, who emphasized the team’s focus on getting to the state championship rather than beating last season’s record.

Assistant coach Colin Mackey agreed with Bailey.

“In our program, the expectation is always to be in the hunt for a state shampionship,” said Mackey.

So what was to blame for the Cats’ slow start? Some thought that team members were a little too hard on themselves after some mistakes early on.

“We put a lot of pressure on ourselves to be perfect all the time, and it got to our heads,” said freshman Ansley McNeel.

Some believe that the Cats’ tough schedule put them at a disadvantage.

“We’ve played a lot of really tough competition, from lots of different classifications,” said Mackey. “Something like six or seven of our matches have been against teams who were in the state finals of their classifications this last year.”

Others note the difficulty of the schedule.

“The beginning of the season involved playing some tough teams in matches that would be challenging at any point of the season,” said Bailey.

Throughout the beginning of the season, the volleyball team had been practicing with different positions and line-ups to understand where each player fit best.

“We’re trying out a lot of different things and line ups,” said Mackey. “At this point in the season, we’re still experimenting a lot.”

So what changed within the Cats to go 20-7 in the remainder of their season?   Senior Elizabeth Harvey attributes the turnaround to a team meeting that helped the Cats shake off their rough start.

“We had a big discussion instead of one of our practices where we reassessed our standards and our expectations that we had set for ourselves at the beginning of the season,” said Harvey. “We focused on discipline, having intention on every point, focusing on executing each of our individual goals, but then bringing our individual roles as players together.”

Coach Jona Braden also talked about the team going back to their core values throughout the course of the season.

“Not much changed other than clarifying, deepening, strengthening, stripping down what matters most, revisiting what the team had put together at the beginning of August, and defining what needed to happen for all players day-in and day-out in order for the team to grow forward together,” said Braden.

With so many new additions, it is easy to see why the VolleyCats struggled to find a rhythm early on. It is many players’ first year on varsity, a notably higher level than the junior varsity and Middle School teams.

“It’s harder because of the drill’s intensity, and the players and competition is better,” said McNeel.

On the other hand, some find that the biggest change was the time committed to volleyball.

“The biggest difference between junior varsity and varsity is probably the overall commitment,” said Bailey. “When you add up the hours watching film and engaging in classroom sessions, it is clear why the varsity team manages to play at the level that it does.”

The Cats have really been coming together as a team, and their friendship has only grown from the start of the season.

“We put in 100 percent effort and prioritize the team, which has made all of us grow together and play as a cohesive unit,” said Bailey, “The bond among teammates is stronger because of all the time we invest in each other.”

As they head into the quarterfinals of the GHSA tournament, the Cats bring with them an eight game winning streak. In hopes of extending the streak to 11, the team has been taking things one point at a time.

“We need to be focused for every point and every game and use every practice and every touch and not give up,” said Harvey.

The coaching staff also reinforced the idea of focus.

“We are all about the now,” said Braden. “Learning from our past experiences while remaining steadfast in the present. Each day is our focus.”

However the VolleyCats have been careful not to get ahead of themselves. Braden stressed that in the last remaining games, they have to be tough not only physically, but mentally as well.

“The toughest opponent is always yourself,” said Braden, “Every day we step into the gym with every intention to minimize our errors and deepen our grit so that our mental toughness allows us to fearlessly fight for one point at a time no matter what.”

Harvey agreed that even though they had beaten their toughest opponent, Blessed Trinity, they had to be cautious of themselves.

“That’s one of our biggest goals moving forward, to not let that go to our heads,” said Harvey.

With all of the talented additions to the team, the VolleyCats are optimistic this year.

“We’re always going to get better as a team, we’re always going to go upward,” said McNeel. “We have a passion and intensity for the game, and it’s going to drive us forward this year and the seasons after that.”