By Brad Fauber
STEPHENS CITY -- Kelsey Singhas felt just slightly out of place on Sherando's varsity volleyball team last season.
Sure, her talent as an outside hitter allowed her to thrive in the Warriors' offensive attack, and she more than held her own during her first full season at the varsity level. But as a sophomore, she missed out on playing with many of the girls that she has grown up with on the volleyball court, as most of her friends remained at the JV level in 2013.
This season, things are back the way they should be.
"We're really excited and I'm really excited because I get to play with all of my friends again," Singhas said. "I've played with them since like sixth grade so it's good to have them up here.
"I had fun last year and it was really good, but this year is a whole lot better."
To be clear, Singhas has no regrets about last season. She relished the chance to compete at the varsity level, where she was able to get a head start on becoming acquainted with the jump in competition.
It allowed her to get the unavoidable growing pains out of the way early.
Singhas, who was a late call-up to the varsity team during her freshman season two years ago, was brought up to the varsity squad for the Warriors' team camp at Liberty University last summer. Singhas recalled performing so poorly in her first match that week that she thought former Sherando coach Chuck Ashby was going to send her back down to the JV team. But that demotion never came.
"That whole week I learned a lot better ... hitting, passing and how older girls play. I learned quickly," Singhas said.
Then came the jitters of beginning her first full season of varsity volleyball last fall.
"I was really nervous when I first came. I was so scared. But after I played with them, three games maybe, I got used to it and it was great," Singhas said.
Singhas proved to herself -- a little surprisingly so, she admits -- that she did indeed belong at the varsity level last season, as she led Sherando with 178 kills. She also earned first team all-Northwestern District and second team all-Conference 21 selections.
This year, head coach James Minney -- who returns to the varsity head coach position after serving in that same capacity at Sherando from 2002-2007 -- will look to Singhas to serve as one of the leaders of a team that is welcoming in plenty of new faces this fall.
"It helps because we're stacked with a lot of juniors this year. Kelsey is a junior but she has playing experience," said Minney, who spent the last three years as Sherando's JV volleyball coach. "We brought up a lot of upcoming juniors that were JV last year and they have to play a big role on the team. So it is a little bit difficult right now. Kelsey, it's easy having her on the court because she understands the game a lot better and is more fluent with the game."
Now with a year of varsity experience under her belt, Singhas is ready to take the challenge of that leadership role head on.
The 5-foot-8 Singhas figures to be a focal point of Sherando's offensive attack again this season, and Minney said she has made some improvements that should make her a more effective scorer.
"Her approach is getting a lot better, it's becoming a lot quicker," Minney said. "One of the things that she did last year that was hurting her was she was a lateral jumper instead of vertical. This year she's become more vertical, so that has helped her out with her approach. She's getting a little more power behind the ball now, so that will help."
Singhas will also have some help around her. Sophomore Mackenzie Cornwell -- the only player on last year's varsity team that was younger than Singhas -- returns after tallying 117 kills during her freshman season a year ago, as does senior Michelle Baker (92 kills, 48 blocks in 2013).
"Michelle's come a long way, she did a year of club this past season, so she's doing a lot better," Minney said. "Then the upcoming juniors, we've got Audra Smelser and Alaina Paige -- she's a sophomore -- and then we have some others that have come up that are doing well."
Minney also thinks the Warriors will be more stout defensively this season with the addition of juniors Brooke Aston and Sarah Schellhammer and the return of senior Erica Scully (343 digs in 2013).
"The upcoming juniors from last season that were sophomores, for two years down at JV they were like 42-1. They were always complimented on their speed of the game and their defensive play," Minney said. "... There is a lot of comfort in the defense."
The Warriors are hoping to see improvement from Sherando's 10-10 record from last season, and Singhas likes what she has seen so far from her teammates.
"I think we looked pretty good playing in our scrimmage last week," Singhas said. "... For our first game we looked pretty good and getting practice in before Spotswood [next Thursday], I think we're going to get even better."
Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 184, or email@example.com