Team stalwarts

Cassie James and Lynn Russell, both juniors, are among the stalwarts for the Harwood Union High School volleyball team.

The fall sports season is in full swing for local high school teams. The Waterbury Record caught up with Ali Lake, coach of the Harwood girls volleyball team, on what to expect from the Highlanders this season.

Q: Results last year?

7-7 in the regular season; we were ranked No. 6 in the state last year and reached the Division 1 quarterfinals by going 1-1 in the playoffs. The previous year, the Harwood team was ranked 14th out of 14 teams. You can’t imagine the work that these girls have put in to get to where they are today.

Q: Results so far this season?

5-3, with wins over Montpelier, Randolph, Burlington, Enosburg and Rice and losses to Champlain Valley, St. Johnsbury and Mount Mansfield.

Q: Turnout this season?

This team may be small but they are all so solid. Returning from last year is Kate McCracken, a senior and team captain, and Ashlyn Carst, another senior and team captain. Also returning are senior Mia Cooper and juniors Cassie James and Lynn Russell. We have also gained senior Brianna Bove and junior Maria Mesquita, who were on junior varsity last year but were also utilized by varsity later in the year. Last, but not least, we brought on two freshmen, Ava Lawson and Mia Lapointe.

Every single one of these girls will be giving their all this year. We have such a small team, everyone will be playing a huge role this season. I expect to see incredible things from all of our returners and I already have.

Q: What are some strengths of the team?

Each and every one of our players is versatile. I know that if I need to change up our rotations for any reason, each athlete would be able and willing to face the challenge head on.

I also see a hunger in them. They are ready to achieve something great this year. They stay after practice time to get extra reps in, even without my asking. It’s a coach’s dream.

Q: Areas where you hope to see improvement?

This is the best question! We can improve in everything. They are all still so new to volleyball and they learn extremely quickly. They are all sponges and it’s just incredible to see them absorb information every day in practice. 

If you had asked this question last year, I would have said our mental strength during high-stress games was our biggest downfall. However, this year, these girls have truly shown massive growth in this area and it is no longer a major factor for us.

Q: How are you adjusting as the season goes along?

We have already changed up our lineup this year and we are only four games into the season. I am really looking to find the best lineup that can make the biggest impact against the rest of the state and allow these girls to achieve their fullest potential. I know that the changes have come to a surprise to some of the girls but they are so resilient and I couldn't be more thankful that they are willing to buy in.

Q: The team had its best season ever last year; what are your expectations this season?

As you can see, we were 8-8 last year. Every loss was 0-3. This tells me that, last year, there was a fairly large gap between us and the skill level of the teams that beat us. I truly believe that this year, between the new athletes that we have recruited and the belief/knowledge that our returning athletes have obtained, we have an enormous amount of potential to bridge that gap. It should be a great year for Harwood volleyball. 

I expect them to get better and better — and better. Last year was great for Harwood volleyball; this year will be greater. We fully believe we will be more competitive in our conference than we ever have before.

I really do think that I am lucky to have stumbled upon this team. They want to learn, they want to work, and I couldn’t be more ecstatic to contribute to helping them grow.

Not to be cliché but it all comes down to what we can learn in the time that we have allotted. I already know that they can absorb what I give them. It just comes down to if I can give them everything they need to know to be successful this year.

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