Last fall season, the Indian River varsity volleyball team won the Southern Henlopen Conference in its inaugural year of existence, with an 11-7 record. This year’s team has done some shuffling around to make up for the losses of Sara Powell and Shauna Jacobs to graduation — and possibly Kelly Jurusik — in an attempt to defend their title and win it two years in a row.
Achieving another conference title will take some gellin’ — and not the comfortable kind like in the popular insole commercials — the hard-work kind.
This year, Indian River returns three starters — though only one of them, Nyssa Altman, returns to her original position. Senior middle hitter Renee Davidson shifts to outside hitter and senior Hilary Hawkins shifts from the outside to fill Jacobs’ setter position.
“Shauna’s had the setter position for the past two years and losing her is huge. But Hilary will be able to jump in there as our setter,” head coach Jess Dodd said. “And I think Renee really has the confidence to be a really good player.”
“The difference this year is that she’ll have to pass more instead of only receiving,” he continued.
Junior Chelsea Collins returns after a one-year hiatus and adds some athleticism to fill a gaping hole at middle blocker.
Altman returns to her opposite hitter position in the back row, along with defensive specialist Anna Marie Brown.
Junior Hayley Brennen missed almost the entire 2005 season with an injury and is recently coming off a broken knuckle, according to Dodd, and could earn a starting position — but so could anybody.
“Nothing is set in stone,” Dodd affirmed. “They can compete to take anybody’s position. Every practice you can go up the ladder or down the ladder. We keep track of our drills and rank everybody to find out who’s playing the best. And in time they’ll get more consistent.”
At a recent play-day in Fruitland, Md., Indian River won seven matches and lost four, despite inconsistent attendance at practice.
“Saturday was one of the first times were able to get all the starters playing together in a pressure situation against another team,” Dodd said. “It’s hard to simulate that same pressure in practice.”
Dodd mentioned that last year’s JV players, Katie Farber, Amber Nash, Erica Cook and Kamie Brittingham, could push for time — in addition to anyone else who may join the team late due to work conflicts.
Dodd also mentioned that the Indian River volleyball feeder program is beginning to take root at Selbyville Middle School, as a club team under the supervision of Ashley Lewis Brown.
The Southern Conference schools, including Delmar, Smyrna (first year programs last year), Indian River and Lake Forest, have a hard time developing talent at an early age because there just isn’t a structure in place for them to do so. Now that that’s beginning to change, Dodd was able to crack a small smile.
“It’s huge when seventh- and eighth-graders can start out with the basics of passing and serving,” he said. “That’s the biggest part of the battle. That will be a big help to our team.”
Delmar head coach Chuck Adams couldn’t help but agree.
“A kid can start playing any sport but volleyball at age 5,” Adams said. “Football, baseball, soccer, basketball… whatever they want. And volleyball requires so much more skill and athletic ability. So to be able to get them started before ninth grade is a huge advantage.”
Dodd mentioned that the Selbyville Middle School club program will probably get rolling around the second or third week of the school year, to gauge interest, and will practice at the Selbyville’s Southern Delaware School of the Arts.
Indian River travels to play Delmarva Christian (located just East of Georgetown) for its regular-season opener on Sept. 11, in a 5:30 p.m. game.