December 3, 2010
Returning talent big boost for CHS
A solid core of eight players is back for Coach Cheri Olson and the Cortland High volleyball team as they try to build on last winter’s late-season success.
The Purple Tigers, who open the season Saturday at the Homer Tournament, finished 6-8 in the OHSL Freedom Division and 8-8 overall during the regular season. They were seeded ninth in the Section 3 Class A tournament and won two matches against higher seeds — East Syracuse-Minoa and New Hartford — before falling to Oneida in the semifinals to finish the season 10-9 overall.
Returning from that squad are seniors Alex Charles (setter), Amanda Shelley (libero, first-team all-league), Kelsey Wetherell (right side), Kelly Knauerhase (middle blocker, second-team all-league), Kaylee Gebhardt (outside hitter, honorable mention) and Carina Clayton (outside hitter) as well as juniors Zakarra Butts (middle blocker) and Jenna Gregory (setter). Shelley had a team-high 397 digs while Knauerhase led the team in kills last winter with 203 and in blocks with 43.
Knauerhase, Shelley, Gebhardt and Wetherell are the veteran starters. The captains are Gebhardt and Clayton.
“Kelly had a great season last year as a starting middle blocker,” Olson said of Knauerhase. “I awarded her the team’s best offensive player. She plays to win and is aggressive at the net. As a Libero, Amanda led the league last year in digs per game. In addition to being first-team all-league she was our team’s best defensive player. Her consistency on the court could be one of the keys to our success this year. Amanda is a great passer and her defense is, in my opinion, awesome.
“Kaylee has made the most improvement over the years of any of our seniors. She has become great defensively, and is not afraid to lay it all on the line to win each point. This year’s focus is our offense and Kaylee should play a large role in that. Kelsey was our starting right side last year. Whether she realized it or not, she was the glue that held us together. She stepped up to the role and thrived at her dependability on the court. Kelsey has been working hard to show that she is ready for the season and ready to win.”
Olson also had comments on her other returnees.
“Carina is an outside hitter who did not see as much playing time as some of the other girls,” she said. “We are looking to change that this year. She is a player who wants to get better and who wants to do everything she can to help the team win. I am looking forward to seeing what she brings to the table in the outside hitting position. Alex played back row for us last year. She is a solid passer. This year, we hope to bring her back to her roots in the setting position.
“Jenna has big shoes to fill this year; we are looking to have her replace Sarah as the starting setter. She was brought up from JV last year in order to train as a setter and to take over for this year. So far, she has embraced the role. She has great leadership skills and I can’t wait to see what she does with control of the court. Zakarra is a middle blocker whose love and passion for the game are second to none. She loves to play. She is a versatile player who has great blocking skills. Her understanding of the game will be an asset for us this year.”
Graduation losses from last season were setter Sarah Curtis, who had a team-high 446 assists last season and was a second-team all-leaguer, middle back Lisa Dovi (honorable mention) plus outside hitter Josie Roberts (honorable mention), the 2009-10 team leader in aces with 41.
Newcomers to the varsity level are juniors Maddie Dorward (outside hitter) and Marissa Travis (right side) and sophomore middle blocker Katie Dovi (Lisa’s sister).
“Maddie will step into the role of outside hitter for us this year,” Olson said. “She is a consistent passer who is able to crank on the ball in the front row. My goal for her this year is to make her a force to be reckoned with on the court. Marissa is an all-around player who was a middle blocker on the JV team. With her passing ability and soft setting hands I am looking to train her as a right side. With her height, I am hoping to use her in the front row as a big block against our opponents’ outsides.
“With her big sister’s graduation, Katie is the only sophomore on the team this year. She is going to be gunning for the middle blocking position. Katie is an aggressive player who is already adapting nicely to the varsity atmosphere.”
Olson expressed optimism over the upcoming campaign.
“We have a strong core this year,” she said. “Four of our seven starters are returning and the rest of the players are stepping up nicely. Everyone is transitioning nicely. We have been a solid passing and defensive team for the past two years, and I anticipate that continuing this year. Our middle blockers are very solid this year and we have consistent outsides.
“Our only potential weakness could be the transition to a new setter this year. While Jenna’s skills are up to the task, there is always a period of adjustment when a new setter is in the mix. We are working hard to work out all of the kinks before our first contest.”
Olson said that the goals for this season include a winning season and a berth in the sectional finals. She added that “We have steadily been climbing up the ladder as far as the league is concerned and I would really like to continue that trend.
“Homer and Fulton have been the teams to beat in the past, with the rest of us hot on their heels. We obviously hope to become the team to beat this season and I think we have the talent to do it. It might all come down to the chemistry on the court. The teams that play well together are harder to beat.”
Lara Almansberger returns as the junior varsity coach, while the modified coaches are Maureen White (seventh grade) and Amy Johnson (eighth grade).
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