Valley volleyball emphasizing serve receive, defense after tough finish in 2021
BY VAL TSOUTSOURIS
Sports Editor, RTC
Much was going well for the Tippecanoe Valley volleyball team on Oct. 5, 2021.
They had just beaten rival Rochester on the road to stay alive in the conference title race. Now they could potentially share the conference title with a win over Southwood two nights later.
But Erika Henderson suffered a season-ending knee injury against Rochester, and they lost to Southwood in three sets to settle for third place in the conference.
The following week, they lost to West Noble in three sets in the sectional to finish the season 18-11.
That also marked the end of the prep careers of all-conference seniors Brayden Baney and Mallory Durkes. Setter Macy Kirchenstien and frontliner Bree Sheetz also graduated.
“For us, one of the things looking back, it’s a hard season for volleyball,” second-year coach Ashley Derf said. “It’s a lot of matches in a short amount of time. Just reflecting and looking back at what we did, maybe condition more and maybe lift more. So I said, ‘OK, that’s maybe something,’ so we lifted hard and we conditioned hard this summer. We took care of the physical side of it. We have focused all summer and these first two weeks (of practice) on fundamentals – passing, serving, passing, serving. Against West Noble, we probably did not do our best on serve receive. That was probably one of our worst games on serve receive.
“So we made it a goal to start from Day 1 in the offseason that’s we will be best at is serve receive and defense. And then again, we’re hoping that we can really attain that 90 percent serve, so that we can be those teams that are messing other teams up with our serves.”
Derf said she plans to go with a two-setter system after a one-setter system with Hannah Engstrand and Kirchenstien over the last five years. Sophomore Avery Wagoner and senior Abby Koch will be the setters.
“We want to have more threats on the court, and we also want Avery Wagoner swinging from that front row,” Derf said. “And so with us, with our dynamic, we really feel like having two setters allows us to do what we want to do.”
Henderson is healthy and will replace Baney at libero.
“She’s worked really, really hard to get back to where she needed to be,” Derf said. “She’s been working really hard on making sure she’s taking care of her knees – both of them because she’s had two ACLs that she’s torn. The first one back in eighth grade, I believe. She’s doing a really good job. She’s doing really good. I’m excited to watch her, and I think you’re going to have fun watching her too.”
Derf lists five players as team captains. The “speaking captain” will be Wagoner.
“She’s one of those kids that we’ve been pushing really hard,” Derf said. “I pushed her actually really hard last year to soak in what the other seniors naturally did as leaders. She’s done a really good job. She is only a sophomore. Sometimes I do forget that, but she does very well with being pushed. She handles it really well. She’s got Abby as another leader for us. … Abby does really well balancing Avery out, mentoring Avery. But I have 100 percent faith in her. She will be our captain, team leader, speaking on the court.”
In addition to Wagoner and Koch, Derf also lists Karli Hogue, Emily McGriff and Henderson as captains.
Valley’s new sectional also includes Bremen, John Glenn, Knox and Culver Academy. Culver Academy has won two straight sectional titles. None of these teams were in Valley’s sectional the previous cycle. Valley will host Class 3A, Sectional 18.
“I don't know what to expect for sectionals,” Derf said. “It’s something new for us. The possibilities are endless. CGA is probably going to be the favorite because they’ve won theirs the last two years. They have a really good program. They’ve got some decent height on that team that we don’t have.”