Derrick Webb, Staff Writer
With volleyball season peeking around the corner, all local teams are getting ready for what they hope will be a successful year at the net.
Here’s a look at Westfall and Western as the countdown to the first serve of the season begins to heat up.
Head coach: Jessica Rodgers-Sullivan, first season (fifth overall at Westfall)
2018 record: 8-14
2018 postseason finish: 3-1 loss to Wheelersburg (19-25, 25-20, 9-25, 23-25) in Division III sectional final
In the four years that Jessica Rodgers-Sullivan was at Westfall — from 2012 to 2015 — the Mustangs posted an overall record of 82-23.
This fall, Rodgers-Sullivan makes her return to the program after taking the past three seasons off. Refreshed and ready to roll, Rodgers-Sullivan says she has a new outlook in her position.
“It was nice to have the break,” she said. “When you jump in and kind of get in over your head a little bit, it’s nice to step back and realize what’s really important. I think that little break gave me that time. I felt a lot of pressure when I was here at first. Being able to step back and come back into it … it’s about teaching the girls how to be better people and just having fun with it.”
When she officially does return to match action, she certainly won’t have to search too far for talent. That starts with senior setter Josie Williams — who posted 85 kills, 39 aces, 18 blocks, 112 digs and 313 assists last season — and includes an uber-talented sophomore group.
“Our senior class is really small this year with just one in Josie Williams. She’s the heart and soul of our team, especially as our setter,” Rodgers-Sullivan said. “We have a really great sophomore class. They’re smart, they’re athletic, and they’re going to really fill in the spots that the seniors left last year.”
Oh, and there’s junior Kristin Phillips … a do-it-all middle who a team-high 303 kills as a sophomore alongside 25 aces, 82 blocks, 46 digs and 55 assists.
“Kristin’s basic, foundational volleyball skills are just there,” Rodgers-Sullivan said. “Then she takes it above and beyond. She’s an excellent leader, not just vocally, but by example. And she keeps a cool head. She stays cool, calm and collected and she does what she needs to do.”
One year ago, the Mustangs finished 8-14. This fall, with players like Williams and Phillips, they should surpass their win total from a year ago rather easily. That’s always the goal at least.
OTHER VOLLEYBALL PREVIEWS
- Chillicothe Cavaliers, Zane Trace Pioneers
- Unioto Sherman Tanks, Piketon Redstreaks
- Southeastern Panthers, McClain Tigers
Those two will have help from teammates like Marissa Mullins, Claire Latham, Ashley Haggerty, Kayla Fleischmann, and a host of other contributing players.
Fleischmann, a junior, played at the junior varsity level last season. Rodgers-Sullivan says she’s expecting big things from her, as well as sophomore Hailey Young, who she says is flying under the radar.
“Hailey is a fighter and she gives me everything she’s got on every single play,” Rodgers-Sullivan said. “She’s a little bit shorter so people underestimate her a little bit. But she hits the crap out of the ball in the front row. She’s just a hustle player.”
The last time Westfall seriously contended for a Scioto Valley Conference title was back in 2014, when the Mustangs finished third in the league with an 11-3 mark. This year’s conference race will once again be super competitive. However, Rodgers-Sullivan knows what it takes to win.
“You always have to bring your A-game,” Rodgers-Sullivan said of playing in the SVC. “It doesn’t matter where or who you’re playing, you have to bring everything you’ve got. It’s a tough, tough league. You can get beat on any given night. You have to be mentally focused.”
The Mustangs begin their season on Aug. 22 at Circleville.
Head coach: Jenny Wheeler, first season
2018 record: 11-12
2018 postseason finish: 3-2 loss to Paint Valley (25-23, 14-25, 16-25, 25-22, 7-15) in Division IV sectional final
For quite some time now, Western’s volleyball program has flirted with the .500 mark.
Last season, the Indians finished at 11-12 and before that, ended their seasons at 14-10, 13-9 and 12-11. In the SOC I race, it’s a similar story as Western has went 8-6, 7-7, 9-5 and 8-6 in conference play over the past four seasons.
This coming fall, first-year head coach Jenny Wheeler is hoping for a significant breakthrough.
“We have played really well this summer,” Wheeler said. “One of our goals is to win the SOC I. Everybody kind of looks at us as the underdogs. They always have. So we want to come out and try to prove them wrong and try to make a deep tournament run. A lot of teams are going to take us for granted.”
It’s a fair warning to the Indians’ future opponents.
Western brings back a solid group, led by seniors Carigan Haggy and Chelsea Penwell who, together, posted 219 kills, 54 service aces and 554 digs last season.
That duo will be joined by incoming freshman Kenzie Ferneau, who Wheeler says “will be very effective,” as well as first-year varsity player Chloe Beekman and Mea Henderson, a transfer.
“Chloe and Mea are very athletic. Mea just transferred from Piketon so a lot of people haven’t seen her just yet in our league,” Wheeler said. “Chloe was on the JV team last year but she’s a phenomenal athlete. Hopefully both of those girls play key roles for us this season.”
The Indians begin their season on Aug. 22, hosting Hillsboro.
“The most encouraging thing about this group is that they’re not afraid to help each other out,” Wheeler said. “The tournaments have been about the only days we’ve had all of them together. But they’re willing to step out of their comfort zone and do what’s best for the team.”