Published December 05. 2012 4:00AM Updated December 05. 2012 12:05PM
After finishing a .500 campaign just a year ago, the Valley volleyball squad knew it had to set the bar higher in 2012 and the Warriors not only set that bar, they sailed high over it. Ending the campaign 13-5 (15-7 overall), third in the Shoreline Conference, and as the 15th seed in Class S, Valley was competitive in each and every match, ending its season in the second round of the state tournament.
"We had really high expectations going into the season because we have been investing quite a lot to rebuild the program at Valley," said Head Coach Kathy Scott, who was assisted by Brent Ali. "Last year, we hit some milestones for our program and we wanted to take it even further this year. We went from a 9-9 record last year to a 13-5 record and from sixth place in the Shoreline to a tie for third place so that was definitely a step in the right direction. The seniors and this team in general were an especially great group to work with. Many of them had played offseason together and are passionate about volleyball. The other special part about this group is that they are great friends and have amazing chemistry both on and off the court, which made them all the more exciting to watch."
Leading the pack were senior tri-captains Katie Cullina (outside hitter, First Team All-Shoreline, Heart of the Warrior Award), Abby Tibbetts (outside and middle hitter, Second Team All-Shoreline), and Sierra Harger (opposite and outside hitter, Honorable Mention All-Shoreline, Sportsmanship Award).
"They were all good leaders, each taking on an area of leadership that fit their skill set and created a strong team," said Scott. "They led by example of excellence on the court and in practice and were solid role models for the younger players. Katie was such an exciting player to watch this year that it's hard to believe she missed a year by not playing as a freshman. She has a rare competitive fire that can't be taught and she has some real power on the outside that counted on to end the point. She also played some solid defense with the second-highest number of digs at 173 and she led our team in attacks with 478 and 150 kills. Katie also led our team in service aces with 61 and had a second highest ace percentage with 21.6. Abby moved to the outside because she has a really big swing at the ball and she worked really hard and proved herself to be a defensive force adding 142 digs for Valley. Abby also has the ability to mix up her attack so she can crush the ball or send it over for a kill with an off-speed attack, making her have the second highest number of kills for our team with 136 and a kill percentage of 34.3. Abby was third in service aces for our team with 46. Sierra is an amazingly consistent and accurate player. She has really solid offensive and defensive skills and plays with great composure on the court while supporting her teammates. We adjusted her position this year and her ability to adapt to it was key to our team's success. She has a good read of what's happening on the court and in a tight spot, her teammates could always count on her to step up to the challenge and come through for the team. She is such a steady player that she played more points than any other player. She has great fundamentals and as a player can do it all. Sierra served at an average of 88.9-percent accuracy, had the second highest hitting percentage at .182, and had the second-highest number of serve receive passes at 184."
Additional seniors that played a large role in Valley's success were outside hitter Claire Hurwitt, defensive specialist and setter Joan Wyeth, and libero Haley Samuelson (co-MVP, Honorable Mention All-Shoreline).
"Claire transferred to Valley from Canton and, though she didn't have as much experience, she made up for that because she was willing to do the work, was open-minded, and eager to learn. It was amazing at how quickly she fit right onto the team. She was an important part of our team as Claire brought a lot of enthusiasm and her love of volleyball was contagious," said Scott. "Joan's contribution is her intensity to go after everything; she never quits her pursuit of the ball. She would get the 'You Don't Know Until You Go Award' for running down balls in practice that others might think weren't playable and this often inspired others to take their game up a notch. She entered the game and every time brought new energy and confidence to the players on the court. It's not easy to step off the bench cold and compete as she did which is an example of her focus and intensity. Additionally, she took on the role of backup setter and did an amazing job. She took on two major roles for our team and did the best possible job never with a complaint, just ready to do the best she could wherever we needed her, which is one of the reasons she received the Coaches' Award. Haley brought a lot of defensive experience to our team as a second-year libero. She had a good season last year, but an even better one this year as she dug the attacks of the best hitters in the league. She had a good read on the attackers and improved this year by having stronger and more versatile movement on the court. She also played a key role serving, leading the team in accuracy. Haley led our team in three critical areas with 311 serve receive passes, 245 digs, and with a 96 serve-receive percentage. She is one of the best passers on our team and was our anchor in the back and the reason we were able to run so many attacks to the outsides as well as the middle."
Also contributing were junior Chloe MacNeil (Most Improved Player), sophomore Leah Sopneski (394 assists, 60 aces, 92 percent serving, co-MVP, Honorable Mention All-Shoreline) and junior Michaela Paholski (led the team in hitting and kill percentage with 41 percent, 110 kills, 34 blocks, Honorable Mention All-Shoreline). In addition, the team is to be awarded the CIAC Sportsmanship Award for Volleyball for the 2012 season.
"What a wonderful group of young ladies-this is a season we'll remember for years to come," said Scott. "The league will be even more competitive next year with several teams having young varsity squads this year. For Valley, we have some big positions to fill by the graduating seniors. However, we are really fortunate to have Leah Sopneski return as a junior setter. Chloe MacNeil and Kenna Campbell return for their second year on varsity. Both of them dramatically raised the level of their play and were battling it out for the middle position. But next year, we look for them to work into the positions of outside hitter and middle hitter. Several of the returning players will also be playing club volleyball and that will be highly beneficial to increasing the strength of our program."