Pictured is the 2010 Jay County High School volleyball team. Front row from left are Ashley Franklin, Tanner Martin and Sierra Weatherhead. Middle row are Megan May, Maria Murphy, Mariah Hornaday and Hannah Ainsworth. Back row are Alyssa Rigby, Jen Dirksen and Randa Gillespie.
Pictured is the 2010 Jay County High School volleyball team. Front row from left are Ashley Franklin, Tanner Martin and Sierra Weatherhead. Middle row are Megan May, Maria Murphy, Mariah Hornaday and Hannah Ainsworth. Back row are Alyssa Rigby, Jen Dirksen and Randa Gillespie.
Every team is focused on playing its best at the end of the season. But often it’s the beginning that helps set the tone for success, or lack thereof, down the road.
Consider that one of the lessons learned by the Jay County High School volleyball program last season.
The Patriots opened 0-9, winning just two of its first 23 games during the stretch. They were 1-14 after the Noblesville Invitational in mid-September and finished 5-28.
They had a one-game lead over Homestead in the sectional semifinal, but went on to drop the final three games.
“We went through the schedule … and we were 0-9. We don’t want to be 0-9 before we get the first one this year,” said JCHS coach Fred Medler. “That was really part of last year’s problem, that we got off to a start where we just couldn’t get anybody early. And there were some of them that we should have gotten or could have gotten, but didn’t. We definitely looked at that.”
Another thing Medler and the Patriots have focused on is consistency.
A theme last season was that Jay County would play well in stretches, but tended to give up long runs that allowed opposing teams to fight back. They played close matches in six of their opening nine losses — even two of their three games against perennial powerhouse Delta in the season opener were close calls — but could not get over the hump.
“I think the main thing is that we’re going to go out there and just keep playing and keep playing and keep playing and be able to do that and sustain some stuff. We played well at times last year, we just weren’t able to sustain any effort and teams would come back and beat us for a variety of reasons,” said Medler, who saw his team drop especially tight matches to South Adams, Canterbury, Monroe Central, Southport, and Anderson Highland and Muncie Southside in the Olympic Athletic Conference tournament.
“I think this bunch will sustain the play level throughout the match. Because of that I think we’ll not only compete with people, we’ll be able to beat some people that came back and beat us (last year).”
In 2010, the Patriots will look to a pair of junior middle hitters to set the tone offensively.
Mariah Hornaday is the top returning player on the JCHS squad after leading the team with 51 blocks last season. She was second to departed senior Kelsey Wood with 138 kills.
Maria Murphy was not far behind Hornaday, posting 130 kills and 48 blocks in 2009.
“We’ve got both middles returning, and we’re running a little quicker stuff with them,” said Medler. “We’re passing better than we have the last couple years, so we’re trying to speed up our middle. They’ll hit 60 to 70 percent of the shots that we hit probably.
“On the court, Hornaday is going to be a leader. I think Murphy is going to be a leader in the emotional part of the game.”
The only other returning players who saw significant court time last season are Hannah Ainsworth and Sierra Weatherhead.
Ainsworth, a sophomore setter, recorded 55 assists and 17 aces a year ago. And Weatherhead, a senior left-side hitter, is the top returning defensive player after coming up with 107 digs.
The other seniors on the squad are Tanner Martin, a setter who played in 13 games last season, and Ashley Franklin, a middle hitter. Alyssa Rigby, Megan May, Randa Gillespie and Jen Dirksen, all juniors, will see time on the left side and as back-row defenders.
One of the challenges for the Patriots this season will be their general lack of size, with only Hornaday even approaching the 6-foot mark. Murphy stands 5-feet-7-inches, and several of the outside hitters are in the 5-2 to 5-3 range.
Medler said the key to overcoming that for his team will be to anticipate each play and make sure everyone is where they need to be.
“I think this group will do that, so our size won’t be as big a limitation as what it could be,” he added. “But definitely our size is our weakness.”
Another key to the Patriots’ success, Medler said, is making sure they get quality play in the service game. And he noted he’s optimistic that his team can fight back toward the .500 mark this season.
“What we’re looking at is trying to get to five wins as fast as we can,” said Medler. “When we get to five, we want to get to 10; when we get to 10, we want to get to 15. We’ll see when we get to 15 whether we get much more than that.”