Settling in after our first year at Kiski felt right. Year one wasn't a total victory, but important strides were made. The players started to understand what was expected of them, and more were willing to make the commitment to get better. Returning for the '08 season with varsity experience were starting middle Heather Hobbins, setter Carly Thompson, defensive specialist Rachel Zaydak, and one of our best all-around players Kayla Weiser.
Kayla is an interesting story, because she illustrates one of Ellen's magical coaching moments. I remember the night quite clearly. It was one of the first open gyms in year one. Kayla was unsure about playing volleyball. She was a standout softball player and had skipped volleyball the previous season. When she heard a new coach had been hired, she couldn't help stopping by the gym to check things out. After stretching and a little pepper to warm up, Ellen put the girls in hitting lines. On Kayla's first two approaches, she banged the ball hard but long. Ellen calmly pulled her aside, talked with her about a few minor adjustments, and Kayla starts tagging the ball all over the court. She was grinning ear to ear, and couldn't wait to get a ball and get back in line. It was clear Kayla Weiser was playing volleyball. She was sold!
While the players settled into their roles on the court, the coaching staff did the same. Ellen was at the helm. Trusty bookbag full of drills, and a master of in game adjustments. Jaime was teaching at the Middle School, scouting out the athletes in 7th and 8th grade and funneling them towards volleyball. Jaime ran the show with the JV's and was really good at developing not only the player, but the person. Dan could be counted on to get the gym ready on practice days, and the team ready on game days. He and Ellen share some sort of symbiance, she always said what he was thinking just before he did, then he would look at me and grin. "She did it again". Maybe it was being coached by her all those years ago!
The bench on game nights was the most fun place to be. Lively chatter from coaches to players,enthusiastic cheering from the bench players and the JV's, and really good volleyball being played on the court.
I can tell you that our coaching staff was close. Dan had made a real sacrifice in taking on his role. He worked odd hours at his insurance agency to clear time to be in the gym. Ellen's influence on him as his coach had him eager to do the same, and he really LOVED being in the gym with the team. Jaime had made up a lot of ground coaching JO with Westmoreland Elite, taking her own team and doing quite well with them. For me, well it was just so much fun just watching them all interact. I guess really that was my job, keeping my finger on the pulse of the team, and making sure everyone was on the same page.
Whatever we were doing, it was working. The players were enjoying the experience, and playing better with every match. We managed a 5-7 season in year two, which might not sound great, but in those 7 loses, were some really good matches. We felt as if the program was heading in the right direction, and that we could do better still. Everyone was looking forward to the 2009 season. Jaime had the JV's playing well, and now it would be their turn.
The 2009 season didn't go at all as planned. Despite having strong play from returning middle Charisse Skinner, and transfers Stephanie Hager and Rachel Wallace, the Lady Cavaliers took a step back. They played quality volleyball all season, worked hard at practice and never backed down. It just seemed that the bad runs were longer than the good ones. During this time Ellen began experiencing some mild stomach issues, even spending two days in the hospital. A few tests were run, but nothing seemed to be out of the ordinary. An endoscopy revealed the source of the problem. Ellen had a small bleeding ulcer in her stomach. She was treated with antibiotics and tested for the H-Pylori virus that was usually found in ulcers.
Once she felt better, she returned to the team.
The season wound down and there was one match left. Franklin Regional would give the Lady Cavaliers one last chance at victory. The match was away, so team boarded the bus for the short ride to Franklin. It should have been an uneventful trip, but it would be the bus ride that would change everything.