Valley Center graduated All-Metro volleyball players Emily Otte and Ashlyn Driskill, who is now at Wichita State. Such losses would hamper most teams.
Hornets coach Bryan Otte merely shrugs it off.
“I don’t think we’ve used the words ‘Emily’ or ‘Ashlyn’ in our gym this year,” said Otte, whose team finished third in Class 5A in 2011. “After you’ve been in coaching a while, players come, players go…. It’s the fact that it’s an established program. One of the most important things in the program is having consistency. We’ve kind of gotten there. We don’t live off year-to-year players.
“We take player development stuff very seriously.”
And Valley Center still has plenty of players.
“Meagan Williams was an all-state performer and so was Hanna Shelton, who has (made an oral commitment) to Wichita State,” Otte said.
There’s more players, too, including Morgan Fluker, who moves from defensive specialist to share the setting duties with Sydney Matthews. And there’s seniors Taylor Johnson, Jessica Zivnuska and Emily Warner, juniors Georgi Gilchrist, Miranda Trible and Perrin Spears.
“I feel we’ll be a lot stronger than a lot of people are expecting,” Fluker said. “We’re a well-rounded team…. People will underestimate us, but we’ve done a good job of filling those spots.”
The team will have a different feel, though. With Driskill’s powerful hitting, Valley Center often earned points quickly, without having to rally.
“I think we’ll be more of a rally team,” Otte said. “… Getting that first ball sideout kill will be tougher. I think we’ll be smarter, more of a rally team. We’ll have to watch some of our errors, but I don’t think we’ll be scared of that because we’ll be a really good rally team.”
Otte has high expectations, which haven’t lessened from previous seasons.
He’s especially high on the Hornets’ passing, specifically Shelton, Valley Center’s junior libero.
“She’s kind of got that short-person disease, has a chip on her shoulder,” Otte said. “She feels she has to prove herself. She has amazing tracking skills, reads the game well… Pound for pound, she’s the best libero.”
Such strong passing is key to helping Fluker and Matthews as they transition to the setter’s role.
“It’s been tough for them,” Williams said. “It is stressful. We have so many different plays and sets that they have to do. I think they have been doing well at taking over. They’ve adapted well.”
It helps that Valley Center is loaded with hitters, even with Driskill having graduated. Williams, whom Fluker said is probably her go-to hitter, is versatile and can get kills in the middle or by swinging outside. She’s powerful and brings what Otte says is not only athleticism but a physicality.
If there’s a joust at the net, where players from both sides have their hands on it, Williams will win it, knocking the ball to the ground.
“She’ll put you on your butt on the other side,” Otte said. “She still moves extremely well, so she’s in on a lot of plays. She really controls the net when she’s in the front row.”