Port Allegany Reporter Argus
September 4, 2008
When veteran coach Sharon Daniels returned to the sidelines last fall, taking over a Port Allegany volleyball program that had slipped to a 6-10 record in 2006, it didn’t take long for her team to serve notice that they intend to rejoin the North Tier League elite.
In October, the Gator spikers handed perennial league power Coudersport its only regular-season loss – and on the Falcons’ home court, no less.
“I think it said a lot for the program,” Daniels said. “It said a lot for our philosophy, our ideology – it showed that it was working. You build the kids up to believe in themselves, and they get rewards. And that was a big reward.”
Port would go on to beat Oswayo Valley in the first round of the District 9 playoffs, before falling to Coudy in the quarterfinals and finishing the season at 10-7.
Daniels faces a different challenge this season: trying to build on last year’s success despite losing all six girls who started the final playoff match to graduation. “We’re young,” she admitted, “but we’re gutsy. And it’s a nice group of kids. It’s a nice atmosphere this year.”
Plus, while the team may not have much starting experience at the varsity level, they’re certainly not newcomers to the game.
“The four seniors and the three returning juniors – not only have they played varsity ball together, they also have played club, so they’ve played the last two winters all together. I think we’re going to see some good things because of that. That’s our building blocks, that core of experience.”
The Port High mentor sees club volleyball as a valuable companion to her program. “Nine of these kids play all year around,” she said, “and it’s a much higher competitive level than we’re playing in our league. They’re seeing some extremely competitive play and then coming back here. Usually, if you look out on the court, you can see the kids that have been playing all year.”
Daniels is counting on two returning starters, senior outside hitter Rachel Edgreen and junior middle Kelsey Pistner, and junior outside hitter Alyssa Bowser to make an impact this season. “I’m really expecting big things out of those three players,” she said.
They’ll be joined by a solid supporting cast, led by senior letterwinners Stacey Johnson (setter), Emily Morrison (outside hitter), and Emily Schena (defensive specialist). Junior Caitlin Stewart (outside hitter) and sophomores Sarah Brodhun (middle) and Kyley Mickle (setter/outside hitter) should also contribute immediately, with junior Brooke Dilucia, sophomore Ashley Bernardi, and freshman Becky Andrus completing the varsity roster.
Kaci Daniels (junior varsity) and Laurie Lathrop (junior high) return as assistant coaches.
The North Tier League is always competitive – before Coudersport’s current two-year reign, four different teams won the league title in as many seasons – and it looks like that won’t change in 2008. “This year’s going to be the same; it’s going to be tight,” Sharon said. “Last year, at the beginning of the year, I went out on a limb and said nobody’s going to go undefeated. This year, again, I don’t see anyone going undefeated. It’s going to be a tight race, it’s going to be a battle every night.”
Kaci agreed, adding, “It’s going to come down to two or three games, a seventh-or-eighth place team taking a match from a second-or-third-place team, and it can happen. Almost every team has two or three players who play club year-round. They’re tough – go-to players – and you have to shut them down.”
Where do the Gators factor into that race? “We’ll finish somewhere near the top,” Sharon said. “We’ll definitely be in the mix.”
Then, she smiled. “I think we’re going to surprise some people.”