By Chris Parker
Forsyth volleyball won 20 matches for the first time since 2012 last year going 20-12-2 overall. The Panthers accomplished the feat with only one senior on the roster.
“Although young, this group has played together for a while. For many of them, last year was their second year to participate in varsity matches,” Forsyth head coach Mallory Richardson said. “This group really knows how to work hard, and as a coach I am lucky that they buy into what is being taught and work at things until they get it right. They also get along well with each other, and I think their chemistry on the court has come a long way. Many of these players are multi-sport athletes, and they also saw success in basketball and softball last year.”
Senior setter Katrina Drake will orchestrate the offense. She accounted for 448 of Forsyth’s 471 assists last year.
“She (Drake) keeps an even pace on the floor and does a good job distributing the ball,” Richardson said.
Senior middle Cadence Swank will be a key player at the net. She was second on the team with 138 kills and 39 blocks last year.
“(Swank) should have a strong presence at the net in both attacking and blocking. She is also a good communicator on the court,” Richardson said.
Junior Emmalea Cook returns at libero after earning honorable mention all-conference honors last season. She led Forsyth in both digs (446) and serve-receives (555) as a sophomore.
“She (Cook) is an absolute beast on defense, and I cannot count the number of hustle plays she has made to keep the ball in play. She is fun to watch,” Richardson said.
Kenzie Koen (senior outside hitter) and Landry Stuart (junior right side) are two other returning varsity players to watch.
Ashley Matthews (senior outside hitter), Oletha Rich (junior defensive specialist/setter/right side) and Kloe Hendrickson (sophomore defensive specialist are players that will move up from junior varsity this year. Savannah Koen (outside hitter) and Annabelle Barrickman (middle/outside) are two freshmen who should have an immediate impact.
Missouri is going from a best-of-three set format to a best-of-five set format this year, so Richardson will have her players focusing more on conditioning early in the season.
“The switch from three sets to five will definitely make for longer game nights. We will have more focus on conditioning at the beginning of season especially to prepare for the extra play. When you are in those fourth and fifth-set situations, you can get tired and get lazy on your fundamentals if your conditioning isn’t there. That’s when costly mistakes are made. For players wanting to play in college, it will help to get them used to that format,” Richardson said.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added another obstacle for preparation for an uncertain 2020 season.
“Normally in the summer we are able to host a couple tournaments that bring in revenue and more competition for our teams. This summer we were unable to host those tournaments, and several of the area tournaments and college camps were cancelled. This summer I wanted to keep costs as low as possible for the players whose families may have been impacted by lost revenue due to businesses closing and limiting hours the past few months. We focused more on practice time in the gym with skill development and scrimmages against ourselves,” Richardson said. “I think all of my players (especially seniors) are worried that they will not even get a season this year. We are trying to make the most of each time we get to play. I think one of the awesome things about playing any sport that you love is that when you are focused on the game or on bettering your skill in practice, you are able to hone in on the skills and let all of your other worries fall away. I think that it’s important that our student athletes are able to continue doing what they love and have this as an outlet when so many other things are unknown.”
Forsyth hopes to build on last season’s success with a strong group of players returning.
“My expectations year-to-year are the same for every team that I coach. I expect my players to give their 100% effort in practices and games, and in the classroom as well. Each player should be the best that they can be in the role that they have,” Richardson said. “Assistant coach Jayme Voliva and I are constantly telling our players to always strive for their best play, no matter who the opponent is. I would like to have another 20-plus win season and make it as far as we can in the post-season.”
Forsyth opens the season on Sept. 1 at Skyline.