Despite graduation losses, Rochester volleyball does not despair
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Rochester volleyball coach Erin Leap pointed at the banner in the RHS gym at practice last week.
She noted how many conference and sectional titles the program has won.
“That just doesn't happen,” she told her players. “I expect it to happen, but you can’t expect it to happen. You have to work for it. You just don’t get to win sectionals. You have to work for it. You have to be good.”
And now comes the process of replacing the players who are not back.
The Lady Zs lost both of their first-team all-Three Rivers Conference players, Kaitlin Rogers and Molly Conley, to graduation.
They lost their honorable mention all-TRC player, Hannah Houston, to graduation.
They also said goodbye to libero Dalanie Chipps, back row linchpin Chloe Harris and outside hitter Carlee Blackburn from a team that went 17-8 overall and 7-2 in the Three Rivers Conference before falling to Fairfield in a Class 2A regional final.
But a volleyball program that has won 22 sectional titles in its history, including two in a row and five in the last six years, does not despair over losing players – even the caliber of players such as Rogers, Conley and Houston – to graduation.
They might have to adjust somewhat their style of play, as was evidenced in an intrasquad scrimmage at the RHS gym Friday. Coach Erin Leap referred to it as “finding our feet.”
“The first week of official practice, it just makes you realize the things you took for granted before and that you need to go back to basics a little bit,” Leap said. “When you have people that just know where to go and what to do and then all of a sudden, you’re like, ‘Oh yeah, I should probably teach that.’ But it was OK. It was nice. It was good. We’re having some good camaraderie. It’s going OK.”
The team has four seniors in Kenzie Bradley, Kylie Houston, Lexy Thomas and Emily Hughes. There would also appear to be two other juniors – Alexa Kouskousakis and Kylie Coleman – that have varsity experience and will vie for playing time. Rily Holloway is a move-in from Tippecanoe Valley that could factor in on defense.
Having said that, just because a player is back from last year does not mean their role will be the same. Bradley could play both front and back rows, and Kouskousakis, who filled in for Conley after she suffered an ankle injury in the sectional final, could play all six rotations too.
Then again, Thomas and Hughes, who are listed at 5-10 and 6-0, respectively, figure to get even more chances to terminate.
“My hitters are still my hitters,” Leap said.
Leap said defense and passing have been emphasized in practice. She said they are the essential components to any good team.
In time, though, the key could be blocking. Houston led the team with 58 blocks, and Rogers was second with 51.
“It will define a lot, and we need to figure that out pretty quick,” Leap said. “We still have the height. We just need to get the quickness and get the reading down. We’ve still got a lot of work to do on the net. … We’ve just got to get that first pass. … It’s been on my to-do (list) all week. I have not done it at all, but I will. We will get there.”
While developing the block might be a work in progress, finding leaders to replace the graduated players might not be.
“I think it’s already natural for them,” Leap said of the veteran returnees. “I think they already know their roles and what the team needs from them. They’ve done a good job so far showing by example on the court and I think vocally too. So yes, I think they’ll do a good job.”
Leap said they know what it feels like to win a sectional. They have not lost a set, much less a match, in the sectional the last two years.
“I think that they’re setting the example of the expectations,” Leap said.