Last season was all about evaluation.
After taking over the head coaching duties of the Indian River High School volleyball team, Jim Barnes spent the season getting to know his players, and they spent the season getting to him, too.
Now, in year two, the attitude has shifted.
“We’re definitely in the mindset to win this year,” explained senior Shelby Cannatelli. “Last year we were all new to this, Coach Barnes was new. This year, it’s definitely different.”
“That’s the biggest difference — this year, everyone wants to be here,” added senior Sami Mumford of the team’s new outlook.
After graduating six seniors from last year’s squad — including All-Conference selections Kaya Ziskay, Melissa Woody and Tiffany Rybicki — Cannatelli and Mumford are leading the charge as the sole seniors on this year’s squad.
Mumford was an All-Conference selection in 2015 as a middle hitter, blocker and setter — a role that she will return to occupy throughout her senior campaign.
Cannatelli will be back in her outside hitter role, and the two will be joined by returning juniors Carly Collins and Julia Bomhardt, as well as junior Sarandon Slebodnick, who makes the jump from JV.
An All-Conference section in 2015, Bomhardt will team up with Mumford at the net again as a middle hitter and blocker, while Collins — a captain this year — will be back at outside hitter.
The upperclassmen are establishing a new culture for IR volleyball this season, which they hope will pay dividends on the court when the season gets under way.
“Our team chemistry is a lot different. We all are friends on the team. We get along really well, and I think that helps us on the court,” Cannatelli explained, going on to note team breakfasts and daily group text conversations. “We’re bringing each other up; we’re sisters for sure.”
“We’re all more confident,” added Collins. “It’s going to be a different atmosphere this year. We’re gonna have better music, we’re gonna have a better warm-up, we’re gonna have new cheers — we want everyone to come and see Indian River volleyball.”
The team’s four returners will be joined by four newcomers to round out the squad.
In addition to Slebodnick joining the ranks, the Indians will see freshman libero Jessica Amezcua in the lineup as well. Last year, Amezcua was a key player during Selbyville Middle School’s 8-0 season, and she will be joined by freshman outside hitter Siera Johnson, who transferred to IR this year.
Johnson’s older sister, McKenzie Johnson, enters the lineup as a setter, hitter and the team’s floor captain.
After posting a 6-9 record in 2015, including a five-game win streak during the final six games, Barnes and his squad aren’t putting a number on the amount of wins they’re aiming for this season.
Instead, they’re taking it one game at a time, and, according to Collins, “jumping high and hitting hard.”
“We have a great bunch of girls this year. I’m just so proud of their dedication. They’ve had practice for the last three weeks, at 6:30 a.m. to 9:30 a.m.,” Barnes said.
He went on to say that where that dedication takes them, he doesn’t know yet, but that he has high expectations for the group and hopes to see support at games throughout the season.
“We need to give [the fans] something to be excited about, and I think we have the players in place to do that,” he added. “I have high expectations. We can talk all we want, but we need to show it on the court.”
The team will have the opportunity to do just that when the season gets under way at home against Caesar Rodney on Tuesday, Sept. 13, at 5 p.m.