July 25, 2008


Basic Drake needs: Ball & a net

No big deal playing home for ESG vet


Photos by Bob Ellis/staff photographer
Three local members of the Womens’ Central volleyball team prepare for a serve (left to right) Cheri Drake, Kristin Cobb, and Katrina Fox. Central opened up Empire State Games play beating Hudson Valley at SUNY Cortland’s PER Center Thursday.

Staff Writer
Considering the places that she’s been during her successful volleyball career, Cortland’s Cheri Drake is taking her homecoming in stride.
“The location’s not that important; just give me a ball and a net,” said Drake, 30, a middle hitter on the Central Region Open Women’s squad competing in the Empire State Games at SUNY Cortland’s Corey Gymnasium through Saturday.
“It doesn’t matter where we play. I’m on a team with some people who could be in my math class (at Cortland High School), but as long as I can compete at the level of the Empire State Games, I’m going to,” added Drake.
Central opened play on Thursday with a 25-7, 25-13, 15-8 win over Hudson Valley, and later beat Adirondack 25-15, 25-6, 15-10.
This is Drake’s fourth straight year on Central’s Women’s Open squad after missing 2002 when she was pregnant and then taking the next two years off. She noted that this is her “12th or 13th” year of ESG competition, starting in the Scholastic Division. Drake was a standout middle hitter at Cortland High, graduating in 1996 after earning all-league honors three times and being named to the All-Section 3 and All-State teams twice each.
She then played four years for Rutgers where she was named Best Offensive Player and Best Defensive Player once each. She compiled more than 1,000 kills before she graduated in 2000. She coached the CHS eight-grade team this past winter, her fourth season in all (not continuously) of leading that squad.
“I was actually supposed to coach the (ESG Central Region) team this year,” she said with a laugh, “with Tim Smith as my assistant. But there were only 13 players at the tryout, so we decided I’d play instead. I’m old enough to play Masters, but I can’t bring myself to do it. Anyway, there are players on the New York City Open team (the four-time defending gold medallists) who I played against when I was at Rutgers.”
Drake is one of a number of core players who have been with the Central squad for a while. Homer’s Katrina Fox, Katie Brody from Appalachin and Jamie McMullen from Syracuse are all, like Drake, holdovers from last season.
“Katrina’s on the team every year, McMullen has been for the last couple years and Katie is back,” she said. “At least half the team is on the Goonies, a team I organized from the area that goes to the USA Volleyball National Tournament every year.
“Usually Central’s strengths are passing and defense; those things are easier when you’ve played together and you all know where each other are. Offense is what we’ve been working on. I won a bronze medal when I was on the scholastic team (1995), a bronze in Open two years ago and a silver in 2001, but no gold yet. This year, I hope; I have to retire soon, though I’ve got a few years left, I hope.”
Still, despite the relatively consistent core of the team, Drake said:  “It’s always a different team with different girls. It’s fun to see the young kids coming up, just getting started, seeing where they are and comparing them to yourself at that age.”
Among the youngsters on this year’s squad is Kristin Cobb from Cincinnatus.
“Except Nationals, this is the highest level you can play at in this area during the year,” added Drake. “It’s always fun to play at a higher level. It makes you play better. This is my favorite tournament. The Empire State Games was one tournament that helped get me recruited at Rutgers.”
“It’s really good to have someone like Cheri on the team,” said Smith, an assistant coach with the SUNY Cortland women the past three seasons who also coached at McGraw two years ago and Onondaga Central last season. “She knows everyone in the area who plays volleyball, and helped get the team together. She’s a team leader, and also helped get players to come in so we’d have teams to scrimmage against.
“We have a pretty strong core of players the last couple of years, a group that plays together and then, during the Empire State games, gets another chance to get together.”
In looking back over her ESG career, Drake didn’t have to go back too far for a standout memory. “We played Hudson Valley in our last match last year,” she said. “We lost, but afterwards their coach came up to me and said he enjoyed watching me play. That’s nice; it makes you feel good. You don’t hear that often, but if people think it’s fun to watch, that’s another reason to keep on going.”
Drake also praised Mary Lou Bordwell, who coached the Cortland High volleyball squad for 25 years before retiring last month and has stated that she hopes Drake replaces her. “She always encouraged me and was my biggest fan,” Drake said of her former coach. “Her family is from Pennsylvania, and she came to watch me play (for Rutgers) at Pitt.
“When she found out I was back in the area, she contacted me to be a junior high coach again. That program is her baby, and knowing that she wants me to take over the reins is a huge compliment.”