At the Lions’ first practice of the season, second-year volleyball coach Joel Abe presented his athletes with a saying that he had read recently.
“Choices lead to actions, which lead to habits.”
In short, Abe wants that habit to be winning.
The Lady Lions set up a good foundation last season. In Abe’s first year at the helm, the team went 9-11, an improvement from the two-win season it endured in 2012. That, Abe said, was merely the first step a program must take to change from a culture of mediocrity.
“I think they believe now,” Abe said. “We talked at the first day of tryouts that we have to commit practices to developing habits that will make winning instinctual. Some programs have the habit of winning, so it’s second nature. If you don’t believe you’re going to win when you step on the floor, you probably won’t.”
Louisa will have good reason to believe they can win in the season ahead. The Lady Lions’ roster features six seniors and a bit of young talent that coaches are hoping can help the team overcome the remaining hurdles ahead.
Despite a successful season in 2013, the Lady Lions struggled in district games, going 4-10. Of those 10 losses, nine were in straight sets. That’s a stat that is a particularly sore spot for a coach who has more determination than patience.
“The first thing you have to do is put yourself in contention and take some sets off of them,” Abe said. “I think if early in the season we can take some sets off of some teams and build some confidence, hopefully, as the season progresses we can use that as a springboard to some postseason wins.”
To get those wins, Louisa will rely heavily on senior Jill Elkins, who has been the team’s vocal leader thus far in practices. The senior boasts the same deadly serve she wielded last year, and that weapon is now complemented by a more well-rounded game.
Fellow senior Rebecca Brookman is also being counted on to contribute early and often. With her experience, length and athleticism, Brookman has the chance to be Louisa’s best line of defense at the net. Junior Michaela Gibson came on strong at the end of last year en route to earning second-team, all-conference honors, and will be a dangerous factor as an outside hitter.
Louisa has a stable of young talent as well. Sophomore Tori Finn, who also stars on the basketball court for Louisa, is still raw in terms of
technical ability, but has good height and power on strikes. She’s slated to start the year on the junior varsity team, but there are hints she could be promoted.
Fellow sophomore Taylor Robinson is another young talent who just might be the most athletic player on the team already. A star for the school’s softball team, Robinson will bring a high level of intensity to the table.
And while the younger players may not start for the Lady Lions, they’ll offer something the first-stringers will need at practice: competition.
“They have something to prove,” Abe said. “To be a good program, you need people who are capable of pushing the person ahead of them. Competition makes everyone better.”
Abe hopes it’s that type of competition that will carve out a new setter for the team this year. Calling the position the team’s “highest area of need,” Louisa is still looking for a replacement for the hole left by second-team all-conference player Desiree Navarre, who graduated in May.
Louisa played a 5-1 formation last year, a strategy that heavily leans on having just one primary setter on the floor most of the time. Abe said he’s on the lookout for someone who is willing to set, and sacrifice as well.
“We have kids who have the capability, but we also have them playing at other positions,” Abe said. “We have to find out how to make ourselves the strongest team possible, even if that means playing people in different positions than they’re used to.”
So far, Abe said he has a few players he is considering for the position. The team’s opening scrimmage at home on Monday, August 18 versus Goochland will serve as the final proving ground.
“I’ve explained to the kids that scrimmages are about seeing what works,” Abe said. “It’s about getting experience.”
And while Louisa doesn’t have a local club team at its disposal to keep the roster working year-round like powerhouse programs such as Fluvanna and Monticello have, Abe said it’s nothing that a little determination can’t overcome.
“It doesn’t mean we can’t get [to the top of the district], it just means we have to work a little harder to get there,” Abe said.