As a new North Tier League volleyball season gets under way, Port Allegany is determined to put last year’s uncharacteristic 2-15 record behind them and focus on the campaign ahead. The Lady Gators took the first step on that road last week, topping Allegany-Limestone 3-1 (25-16, 21-25, 25-23, 25-19) in Friday night’s home opener.
Although Port returns just two seniors, head coach Sharon Daniels sees an enthusiastic, “highly motivated” crop of underclassmen meshing well with the older players. Daniels, who will be assisted again by Kaci Daniels and junior high coach Laurie Lathrop, also feels that area club-level programs have had a positive effect on her squad.
“Normally, having such a young team would present a problem with the experience factor,” she said. “But I feel very fortunate that of the kids that are playing, 11 of those 18 have at least two years of club experience. That’s going to help. The experience they gained by playing over the winter will carry over to the court here.”
Daniels expects the Lady Gator offense to revolve around three returning front-line starters. “Seniors Alyssa Bowser (a second-team NTL All-Star) and Kelsey Pistner both swing well, make very good offensive choices and bring the most experience to the floor. Add junior Renee Edgell and we have three powerful hitters with excellent blocking ability,” she said.
The other starter back for 2009 is junior setter Kyley Mickle, who will be joined in the lineup by freshman setter Jenny Shelley, “a very talented player with tons of energy.”
Continuing down the roster, Daniels added, “Sophomore Becky Andrus saw a lot of time at the varsity level last year and has quickly filled the void left by graduating first-team NTL All-Star Emily Schena in the libero position. She adds much to the team’s chemistry with her quickness and court savvy. Ashley Bernardi adds depth to our back row, Nikki Andrus will see time in the outside hitting position and the duo of sophomore Becca Culver and freshman Rachel Taylor will definitely aid our defensive efforts at the net.”
Coudersport dominated North Tier League play last season, racing through the league schedule with a perfect 14-0 record, but Daniels doesn’t see that happening again.
“I think it’s going to be a little tighter race this year,” she said. “I think Coudy’s going to be tough, I think Oswayo’s tough, Eldred’s tough, Smethport’s going to be in the mix, NoPo … I don’t think there’s any team that’s going to be at the bottom every night, I really don’t. Just looking at the different players coming back, I think it’s going to be a race every single night to see who’s going to win.”
Where does Daniels hope to see her Port High team finish in that race?
“It would be easy to say ‘better than last year,’ but I would like to see us make the playoffs, which means we’d have to finish .500,” she said. “I would really like to see this team finish .500 and at least make the first round of the playoffs. That’s our long-term goal.”