BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
ARGOS — Both the Tippecanoe Valley and Argos volleyball teams have new coaches, but that was one of the few similarities the teams had when they met at Phil Weybright Gymnasium in the season opener for both teams Saturday.
Valley won 25-12, 25-18, 25-12, relying on the setting of Avery Wagoner to set up fellow junior Mackaylie Costello down the middle and seniors Ava Smith and Colette Blackburn on the wings.
This marked the first match in the second stint as Valley coach for Jon Hutton, a long-time Valley faculty member and administrator who has 30 years of previous volleyball coaching experience.
In addition, former varsity coach Mallory Eaton is back on the sideline as Hutton’s varsity assistant.
This was also the first match for Argos coach Ondraya Perez, a 2017 Argos grad who was promoted from JV coach to varsity coach in July. Perez is Argos’ fourth coach in five years.
Due to Valley serving out of order and their own sharp play, Argos built a 9-5 lead in Game 2 before Valley went on a 7-0 run thanks to Costello, who handcuffed the Lady Dragons with six consecutive aces to give Valley a 12-9 lead.
Argos hung within 16-13 before a Costello kill and a Blackburn ace highlighted a three-point run.
An Ava Smith kill for Valley and another Costello kill made it 22-15.
Argos got back within 22-18 after a Smith service error, a Costello two-handed tip error long and a Shelbi Weiser kill, but a service error, a flying tip from Wagoner and another Costello ace closed out the set.
In the third set, Valley went on a 10-1 run to open a 14-5 lead. Three Blackburn clean aces were included as part of the run.
Still, Hutton would like to see better serving.
“We were not consistent and confident like we should be in that moment,” Hutton said. “We have some growth we have to develop in that place. … That’s something we have to be better at all the time.”
Hutton said Costello was “really starting to cook.” Costello plays travel softball all summer but found the transition back to volleyball “kind of easy.”
It helps to have a familiar setter in Wagoner.
“I think it’s really good,” Costello said of their chemistry. “We have played together since forever, and I don’t say anything, and she just knows what I want, and we work really well together.”
Ava Egolf, a transfer from Warsaw, could also play a key role as a middle hitter.
“I think she does really well, and she’s doing really well,” Egolf said. “She hits really well, and she reads the court really well, and she can see where to place the ball.”
Despite the loss, Perez praised her team’s resilience.
“I definitely think I’m most pleased with how the girls kept pushing through themselves,” Perez said. “We’ve had a lot of past times where we lose morale as we go through a game, and I definitely think we didn’t lose morale this time. It’s definitely nice to see them stay positive on the court even if the score didn’t reflect what we would like it to be.”
Perez had four years of previous coaching experience prior to taking the Argos head coaching job, including the last three coaching the JV. She also played for two years at Argos.
She is the elementary art teacher at Argos who painted the Dragon logo in both Gym 2 in the summer of 2022 and the main gym this summer.
She said the program needed a coach focused on “keeping it positive and keeping this competitive level going and progressing it.”
After the match, the team did a line dance to Rednex’s 1995 hit “Cotton Eye Joe.”
“We dance every day after practice,” Perez explained. “I have them move their feet. It’s just to create fun, and we do it after practice because they’re already tired, and so we send them home with a fun thing that they’re tired from.
“And so I don’t know if we’ll do it after every home game, but we definitely after every practice, I try to do some sort of … dance workout-type thing.
“So who knows? Maybe.”