2015 Volleyball Coach of the Year: Minney leads defensive-minded Warriors to success

James Minney

STEPHENS CITY – Sherando volleyball coach James Minney knew his team’s biggest strength would likely reside on the defensive side of the net even before the 2015 season began. But the Warriors’ defensive fortitude took on added importance a third of the way through the season.

It was at that time that the Warriors lost 6-foot-1 junior Melissa Gaudette to a season-ending injury, leaving Sherando with a vertically challenged lineup that didn’t have a player taller than 5-foot-9.

“There’s no blocking. When you’re getting hammered on point after point, it’s just tough. And that’s the problem we faced this year is we just had no way of stopping anybody,” Minney said recently. “We had to settle for defense, try to bring up everything we can and try to swing around and play offense off of it. I really believe that they showed a lot of teams that you can play with short people.”

Though short in stature, the Warriors accomplished some big things in 2015.

Though they lost two matches each to Northwestern District rivals Millbrook and James Wood and five of their final eight regular season matches, Sherando navigated a very competitive Conference 21 West regular season schedule and earned the second seed and a first-round bye in the conference tournament. The Warriors won a Region 4A West tournament game before ultimately falling to eventual state champion Loudoun County in the regional quarterfinals.

In guiding the Warriors to success this past season, Minney has been named The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Volleyball Coach of the Year.

“Just making it to the region was difficult enough and I felt really comfortable, really good. That’s a huge accomplishment for that group,” Minney said. “… No one blew us out except Loudoun County. No one blew us out. They were competitive with everybody at any given time. I think out of all the tough teams we played, I think outside of just two of them, we won the first set, so we automatically pushed most of them to four and that’s a huge accomplishment again with the lack of height and no blocking. I really felt like we left a mark that you’re not gonna walk in and walk over us, you’re gonna have to play hard to beat us. And that helped out a lot.”

The Warriors weren’t completely devoid of offense – senior Kelsey Singhas and junior Alaina Paige had 314 and 175 kills, respectively – but Sherando’s success began and ended with its defense.

“The defense we had this year was incredible. That was probably the best defense I’ve ever coached,” said Minney, who completed the second season of his second stint as the Warriors’ varsity coach this past fall. “The sad thing is we didn’t have the offense to go with it.”

Sherando’s success on defense began with the team’s cohesiveness, strengthened by a core of seven seniors that included libero Brooke Aston (area-high 446 digs), setters Kelsie Utz (126 digs) and Kelsea Wilkins, Audra Smelser, Sarah Schellhammer and Dreaya Somerville in addition to Singhas (183 digs).

“I mean you had three-quarters of your team were seniors and all of them were starters, so that wipes us out quite a bit for next year,” Minney said, “and I think next year you’ll see the impact that they made on the program by not being there.”

Minney, who also coached Sherando’s varsity volleyball team from 2002 to 2007 and served as the Warriors’ JV coach between his two varsity jobs, said one of the biggest challenges as a coach this past year was moving players in and out of different positions.

But Minney added that the team’s combined experience allowed him to focus more on conditioning than teaching technique in practice, and he said his players’ work ethic in practice was one of the team’s greatest assets.

“I don’t think I’ve ever had a team that really put the time and effort into practice as this,” Minney said. “And I was very demanding this year because I knew this was going to be a good year for us, or I thought it would be a good year for us, so a lot more conditioning. Like I said, they had the technique, now we need to get some stamina. They might’ve grumbled but they still worked hard and they still came into practice with a good attitude.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com