Blackbirds hoping fourth time is a charm
The Enterprise — Michael Koff
Watching from the sidelines last Saturday is Voorheesville volleyball player Nicole Brower, who wasn’t able to play in the Class C regional final because of her recovery from appendicitis; she was released from the hospital that day. Brower is one of the Birds’ best players, but Voorheesville won anyway.
VOORHEESVILLE — After knocking at the door of a state championship for three years, the Voorheesville volleyball team is ready to enter.
The Blackbirds are volleyball purists, and the team has paid its dues over an extended period of time, accomplishing everything except a Class C state title.
Ever since 2010, the state competition in Glens Falls has been a blessing for Voorheesville. However, at this point, the team must be hankering to bring a state championship home.
“It’s the fourth year in a row, so we really want it,” junior Kimmy McQuade said at Tuesday’s practice. “We have four seniors who are all really good players; they want it really bad, too. We all want to win it for each other.”
Head Coach Ashley Swint knows that the seniors — Caroline Bablin, Erin Gannon, Libby Bjork, and Tori Hargrave — know what it takes to get back to States, and hopes that the younger girls see it, too. “I’m just really, really excited,” she said. “If they play as determined and as focused as they have been playing, then we should be there. We just have to work and stay focused.”
Voorheesville beat AuSable Valley in the regional finals in three sets (25-13, 25-19, 25-17) last Saturday without an important starter, junior Nicole Brower, who is recovering from surgery after being plagued by appendicitis. She watched the game from the sidelines, cheering her team on.
Brower, who wasn’t practicing on Tuesday, is not cleared by her doctors to play this weekend at States. The Birds begin pool play against Eden, Millbrook, and Mattituck at 8:30 a.m. on Saturday.
Devastated to not be playing, Brower says she’ll cheer for her teammates as much as she can. “The doctors won’t let it happen; I’ve went through two surgeries, so I can’t,” she said. “I wish I could play, but I’m sure they can step up without me.”
“We wouldn’t let her [play],” added Gannon.
Voorheesville handled AuSable Valley easily despite Brower’s absence, but Swint said that, mentally, it was tough. Freshman Lauren Mackey had to come in and play front row, and junior Eileen Thompson played a role, too.
“We had a lot of positive breakthroughs,” said Swint. “This week, it’s a matter of tweaking our defense to fill some voids, figuring out what we have to do, so the ball doesn’t hit the floor.”
Gannon told The Enterprise that Voorheesville was shocked when it heard the news about Brower. “A lot of adjusting and planning had to be made before the match,” she said. “We really buckled down and practiced. We had to figure out what worked; she’s such a big part of our team.”
McQuade said that losing Brower made the team work harder. “We wanted to win for Nicole, and we knew we could,” she said, “so it motivated us even further.”
Voorheesville has faced Eden, Millbrook, and Mattituck at States before; Eden owns the record for state titles with 10, including back-to-back championships. No doubt, each of those three opponents will be better than AuSable Valley.
“Eden is just a great program, so they’ll be our big competition, again,” Swint said. “Millbrook has definitely built their program up; they’ll be great. I don’t know much about Mattituck.”
McQuade said that playing against high-level challengers gives the Blackbirds an opportunity to run and make more plays. “We can always go back to the basics, but it gives us a chance to try new things,” she said. “We have to show what we can really do.”
Swint says that the Voorheesville players need to get their passes to Bjork, so Bjork can run the offense. “That’s it,” she said. “If we do that, and attack the ball, then we are in great shape, but it relies a lot on our serve and receive.”
Serve and receive is the first pass off a serve that initiates the offense. A dig is different than a pass; a dig comes after an opponent made a swinging, attacking hit.
“That’s where we can get a little shaky; it’s on or off sometimes,” Gannon said of the serve and receive. “We can get caught up, but, if we get the pass, and the pass is there, Libby [Bjork] can do amazing things. We have three great hitters in the front row, and the ball usually hits the floor on the other side.”
Or, the volleyball just deflects off a helpless opponent and out of bounds; some Voorheesville players hit the ball extremely hard. For example, during the Class C semifinals, Caroline Bablin killed the ball off an opponents face.
This weekend, the Birds will be missing big hits from Brower, who spoke softly on Tuesday.
“They have amazing potential,” said Brower of her teammates. “I have full confidence in them. I’m not the only one out there; they can take over.”
Swint tries to make her players practice as hard as they play. “We can’t lollygag, and we don’t just hang out,” she said. “If we work hard, and stay focused, that’s all I can ask for.”
At the beginning of the 2013 season, Voorheesville made “Let’s Do It” T-shirts that also have “11-16-13” printed on them, which is the date of States in Glens Falls. The Blackbirds’ goal is always States, and getting to the final four has been fulfilled many times.
“Our hard work pays off,” Gannon said. “It can get old, but the girls are great, and Ashley [Swint] is great. At this level, we can really buckle down, and work on how we’re going to win.”
Voorheesville will be happy with whatever result it achieves, McQuade said. “As long as we do our best, and know that we played our best,” she said. “We have a good shot.”
Swint didn’t totally buy the “dynasty” tag after Voorheesville won its fourth straight sectional title, but the team plays at a high level at all times, no matter who graduates or who joins the team.
“You can’t ask for anything better,” said Swint. “The younger girls are getting the experience, so hopefully that makes them work harder to keep getting back there [States], to that next point, every year.”
Last year, some players wanted to plan a trip to Disney World if they won a state championship, and now, Gannon says they’ll plan the same trip if they make the final match, regardless of the result.
“That’s part of what is moving us; we want to win,” said Gannon. “We’ll fly down there together. It’s like our last hoorah.”
The Disney World plan made Swint laugh out loud. She just wants her players to have fun playing volleyball this weekend.
“I want them to play their hearts out and smile,” she said. “I want to see them come together, cheering after every play.”