“There are peaks and valleys. What you have to do is eliminate the Grand Canyon.”
That quote was from former Pittsburgh Pirates star outfielder Andy Van Slyke, and it could well pertain to the Hiland Lady Hawks volleyball team, except for one thing.
They have been through the Grand Canyon… twice.
But after two winless campaigns, last year’s blossoming, junior-heavy team found its way out of the Grand Canyon, to a more suitable valley, surging to six wins.
Now the team would like to spend a little time climbing around on, say, Mt. McKinley, as they head into what they believe will be a mountaintop 2012 capping.
Welcome to the season of new attitude, featuring a Hiland Lady Hawks team that firmly believes they will be the ones dishing it out this year.
“They are a lot more mature and ready than they ever have been before,” said head coach Becky Williams. “They are ready to win, and they have put a lot of pressure on themselves to do that. This is a completely new attitude for these kids, and they have definitely earned the right to enjoy a great season.”
That drive, that experience and the ability to hang in there even when things go south has been palpable this summer. Williams said that there have been countless times when her team has fallen behind, only to rally back for wins.
“That was not something we did last year,” said Williams. “It’s just a whole different mind-set. Just competing isn’t enough for them now. These guys are in it to win it this year, and they are excited to show everyone that they are going to be tough to beat.”
Returning for the Lady Hawks is, well, everyone. Not one person graduated from last year’s team, and that continuity is a big part of their growth.
With nine seniors leading the way, it is an experienced team, and Williams said that she has four different lineups she is contemplating using, such is the depth on the court for Hiland.
Leading the way will be IVC and District 5 first-teamer Dana Rausch, who does a little of everything for the Lady Hawks. She and sophomore Kelsey Mast will do the setting, and both are also very capable strikers.
Perhaps one of the biggest weapons offensively for Hiland will be senior Ariel Cooper, a lanky outside hitter who didn’t begin playing volleyball until her sophomore year.
“Ariel has improved dramatically,” said Williams. She is making all kinds of plays at the net, and I keep asking myself where this kid came from.”
Makayla Gray, Ashley Raber and Tammy Keim will join Cooper outside, and libro Alexis Guggisberg, Natasha Yoder and Bethany Schrock will provide solid defense along the back row. Manning the middle will be Charity Mishler and Sierra Miller, neither of whom are really tall, but both of whom have what Williams called good verticals.
With all of that experience, and with the pair of no-win seasons in the rearview mirror, 2012 is shaping up to be a very exciting season for the Lady Hawks.
“They are talking about accomplishing things that they would have never dreamed of the past couple of years,” said Williams. “We are attacking more, and even our setters are seeing that when they get the ball where it needs to be, we’re putting it away, and that excites the kids to see that kind of improvement.”
With nine seniors, the group is very close, and being the first group Williams coached as freshmen, it is a special core Williams said she will definitely miss.
But for now, the season ahead is a clean slate, a blank page, and with the excitement being generated, it will be interesting to see how those pages are filled.