By TIM BIRNEY
Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — Coming off its first postseason appearance in a decade, second-year Athens volleyball coach Heather Hanson is looking for her team to take the next step in the postseason, and she believes the Lady Wildcats have the make-up to accomplish their goal.
“The next logical step in our progression, and our goal is to win the first round of Districts,” she said.
“I just want the girls to leave it all on the court,” said Hanson. “Every time we get done with a game, I want them to know they gave their best.
“We still have a lot to learn, but these girls have massive heart and they have fight, and that’s what so fun about coaching this team,” added Hanson. “Just watching them in practice has given me goose bumps because of what they’re doing, and their drive to be better.”
Hanson doesn’t believe there is any pressure on her team to duplicate last year’s success.
“Last year is last year, every team is a different team,” she said.
“We have a lot of new girls this year, but you can tell there’s a difference. I think there’s more energy. The girls are calm and cool, and playing loose” added Hanson. “The team chemistry is a breath of fresh air.
“Their work ethic is impressive, too,” she added. “They give it their all, and they work very hard.”
Hanson is impressed with her team’s unity.
“Our biggest strength is team chemistry.
“This junior class has been playing together for years,” said Hanson. “They all love the game, and they support each other. There’s a lot of positive energy on this team.”
Cassidy Stackpole and Haley Barry will likely start at outside hitter, with Audrey Hatch and Allie Martin vying for time there as well.
Leah Liechty and Kylie Jayne will start at middle hitters, and Taylor Walker will likely see time there, too.
“If Leah (Liechty) keeps the ball in front of her, she’s slamming the 10-foot line,” said Hanson.
Kayleigh Miller will start at setter.
“Kayleigh is stepping up huge at setter,” said Hanson. “She has found her voice.
“Kayleigh has also had some digs in the scrimmage that had me asking ‘where did she come from,’” added Hanson. “It was awesome to see because we practice it all the time, but I don’t always see it.”
Freshman Jenny Ryan could set or hit on the right side.
“Jenny Ryan has beautiful hands. I’m looking for her to get a little more vocal and contribute more and more as the season progresses,” said Hanson.
Taylor Field will start at libero, while Gia Perry and Gracie Witherow will see time as defensive specialists.
AROUND THE NTL
“North Penn-Liberty has been undefeated for how many years? Of course, they are the team to beat in our division,” said Hanson. “Wellsboro is going to be tough, too.
There are some good teams throughout the NTL.
“Sayre is a rival, so we always want to beat them,” added Hanson. “And, we beat Williamson in three sets in my very first game as coach, then we get them in the playoffs, and they beat us. I feel like there is a little rivalry building there as well.”
IN PHOTO 1: Athens coach Heather Hanson. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.
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