With the onset of fall and more temperate weather, people from all walks of life head to the outdoors. The same can be said of most high school athletes. Locally, there is one exception to this rule – the Sullivan Lady Eagles volleyball team led by fifth-year coach Sarah Rochleau. The roster of 11 girls (six seniors, four juniors and one sophomore) will hit the indoor court with the goal of erasing the memory of a difficult 2008-2009 campaign. The Lady Eagles finished with a Four Rivers Conference record of 2-5 with an overall record of 11-15-3. Losing in the first round of districts to the Salem Lady Tigers cut short any hopes of marching forward to face perennial power St. Francis Borgia later in district play.
Coach Rochleau has reason to believe in a better year ahead. Three returning seniors, including Jarren Blankenship, Alana Weiland and Lauren England, will provide leadership with varsity experience since their sophomore years. Blankenship works the positions of middle hitter/blocker and is considered to be one of the team’s most powerful hitters. Weiland is an outside hitter and defensive standout. England has continued to set the table for points from the setter position. Rochleau speaks to their steady play and athleticism as a core for this year’s team.
Senior Karli Ahrens is a defensive specialist that will anchor team play on that side of the net. Senior Erica Breece will be positioned as a right-side attacker and occasional middle hitter. Considered a strong player with a fair amount of experience from last year, the coach praises her “team” mindset. Rounding out the returning seniors is Chelsey Key. Rochleau goes on to say that, “Chelsey has shown incredible improvement this summer through her hard work and determination.” She will get plenty of work as an outside hitter during her second year of varsity play.
Despite the obvious core of returning seniors, the youth movement for future teams is obvious. Junior Macy Ritter will be asked to play with strength at the middle hitter position as she tries to fill in at a position previously played by graduating senior Carissa Richardson. Sophomore Rachel Lucas could be a future cornerstone as a setter and opposite hitter. Junior Katie Wells playing the right-side hitter is noted for her consistency and ability to keep the ball in play. Junior Alyssa Cooper is working as a right-side hitter and looks to add balance to the attack. Rounding out the underclassmen is junior Brittney Simpson-Hurt working the back row of the defensive scheme.
“I think this will be a fun and incredibly hard working group of girls. We have more experience this year and I would love to see us to return to the success of a few years ago when we went 24-9 before losing to Borgia in the district championship,” Rochleau said. “We have eight players with our junior varsity coach, Diane Moss, and twelve players with our freshman coach, Hannah Huitt. I think we really have an awesome group of girls.”
Hey folks, it may be nice outside but get back indoors and support a promising group of young women and a program that is hopefully on the rise. Go Lady Eagles!! – (Matt Tiefenbrunn, Sullivan Journal)