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November 25, 2009

 

Purple Tigers looking to build off last season

SpikeJoe McIntyre/staff photographer
Cortland High’s Amanda Shelley is among the returning players heading into Friday’s Homer Tournament.

By TANEY BEAUMONT
Staff Writer

Cheri Olson figures she’s ahead of the game heading into her second season as coach of the Cortland High volleyball team, which starts Friday morning at the Homer Tournament.
“Last year was my first year as coach and everything was new to the girls,” she said of last winter, when the Purple Tigers went 4-10 in the league and 6-14 overall, losing in the quarterfinals of the Class A sectional tournament.
“I changed their offense and their defense. We started the year very shaky, but improved leaps and bounds by the end of the season. This year, we don’t have to take baby steps to learn everything because we have six returning players, five of whom are starters,” she added.
“The veterans have stepped up to take the newbies under their wings and we are getting better faster because of it. The team wants to get better and they want to win. Last year we lacked a bit of confidence but I am hoping that we have gotten over it, and are ready to start racking up some wins. As I mentioned above, another key factor will be the depth of our bench. After a year together, our second string is much stronger. This makes for a more competitive practice and should translate into us being more prepared for those tougher matches.”
The returnees are headed up by co-captains Sarah Curtis, a senior setter who was also a captain last season, and Lisa Dovi, a middle blocker. Curtis had 193 assists and 112 digs last season, as well as 23 kills and 19 aces. Dovi had 96 kills, 20 aces, 30 blocks and 40 digs.
“Sarah is our returning setter,” Olson said. “She is a leader and a positive force on the court. We are really lucky to have a returning setter. That makes running our offense that much easier. We really focused on defense and passing last year. This year, offense is our number one concern. Lisa is returning at the middle position. I expect leadership and a ton of blocks from her this year.”
Also back are senior outside hitter Josie Roberts (honorable mention all-league last season; 100 kills, 106 digs, 26 aces) and juniors Amanda Shelley (libero; second-team all-league, 293 digs), Kelly Knauerhase (middle back, honorable mention, 102 kills, 45 blocks, 15 aces, 24 digs) and Kaylee Gebhardt, an outside hitter who didn’t see much playing time last year, which Olson said will change this season.
“I AM LOOKING to Josie to step into Katie’s shoes,” Olson said. “We need outsides who are consistent in both the passing and hitting capacities. Josie’s got it. Amanda was one of the top liberos in the league last year; we rely on her heavily in the back row. Her defense is awesome and she is the most consistent passer that we have.
“Kelly worked really heard last year and by the end of the season was a force to be reckoned with. She is a wall at the net blocking and is one of the most aggressive hitters that we have. As a sophomore last year, Kaylee didn’t see a lot of playing time. I expect that to change this year. Plain and simple, Kaylee is an athlete. She is so quick that she can make defense look easy.
The key loss from last year is Katie Owens, a first-team all-leaguer at outside hitter, who had 212 digs, 73 kills and 78 aces a year ago. Hannah Dovi (right side) and Caila Clayton (setter/right side) also graduated, and Olson noted that they “will be missed.”
There are seven varsity newcomers on the squad this season, including juniors Alex Charles (setter), Kadi Hendriks (outside hitter), Kelsey Wetherell (right side) and Carina Clayton (outside hitter) sophomores Reba Aspinwall (right side), Zakarra Butts (middle blocker) and Jenna Gregory (setter).
“Alex has potential to step in as setter or back row as needed,” Olson said. “I am really happy with Kadi so far. She is a very consistent passer and hitter. These are great qualities as an outside. Similar to the middles, we have Josie and Kaylee returning to that position and Kadi is an added bonus. Kelsey will be another good right side for us. She is very strong defensively and could easily be used in the back row for her solid passing. Carina is an outside who is a great passer and an aggressive hitter. She is also a strong server.
“I am grooming Reba to take over for our right side that graduated. She is a solid passer, blocker, hitter, and setter, which are all the criteria needed for this position. I feel like she has the potential to really make a difference for us this year. I brought Zakarra up from JV to be a third middle blocker for us. Last year we only had Kelly and Lisa, who were confident in that position. Having three middles will be a whole new game for us. We will have options that we did not have last year. Jenna will be a setter. Sarah is our returning starting setter from last year, but Jenna is rapidly improving during practice. Having two solid setters is great for our team. Both are hard workers and leaders on the court.”
OLSON NOTED that “Our goal right now is to make sectionals. Last year all teams were invited; this year you have to have a .400 record. I don’t think anyone would have expected our team to make it to the quarterfinals last year, but we did it and went down swinging. This year I’d like to come out swinging instead.
“Our league is very competitive. Any of the matches could go either way on any given day. This just means we really have to step it up and play to win. Fulton is usually the team to beat. Homer is back in our league this year, and we are looking forward to playing them. I would think that those will be some good matches to watch. I really want the girls to relax and have fun this year. I am really excited about the season and am looking forward to seeing how the girls bring it together.”
Laura Almansberger is back as coach of the junior varsity squad, which went 5-13 last season. Maureen Brown returns as the seventh-grade coach, and Amy Johnson returns to the program as the eighth-grade coach. “We have a very solid staff in the program, and I expect that our team is only going to get better and better with time,” Olson said.