Hawks aiming to take a unified approach to volleyball season

Skyline's Molly Meador goes up for a kill during a volleyball game last year against Eastern View. Rich Cooley/Daily

FRONT ROYAL – If there is a buzzword for Skyline’s volleyball team heading into the 2018 season, it’s “unity.”

That topic has dominated the Hawks’ preseason practice, head coach Erika Berry said on Monday afternoon, and it’s an area the team is hoping to improve as it prepares to shake off a dismal second half of the 2017 season.

“We really do all get along a lot,” Hawks senior outside hitter Alana Smith said Monday, “like I feel like we are becoming more like a family, like a team, which is what I think we were missing the last couple years.”

Skyline’s emphasis on developing a strong team bond had come up during Smith’s first three seasons on the varsity team, she said, but she added that a senior group that includes Shyla Schmitz, Kelsey Moore, Molly Meador and Rileigh Hirsch have made achieving that camaraderie a priority this season.

“I think that as a whole Skyline has this hard time with seeing ourselves as winning, especially in our volleyball program,” Berry said. “So coming in, wanting to work on mental toughness and staying united together and knowing that if you fall down you’re gonna take your teammates with you. So really keeping them all together as that unit.”

Skyline's Aaliyah Chunn hits over Eastern View's Chrissy Berty during a volleyball game last year in Front Royal. Rich Cooley/Daily

The hope, Berry said, is that a unified effort will help the Hawks avoid an extended slump that plagued them a year ago. Skyline, which has gone 19-68 in Berry’s first four seasons at the helm, started the 2017 campaign 6-2 before losing 12 of its final 13 matches to finish the year 7-14 overall and 2-8 against Class 3 Northwestern District competition.

Berry said the Hawks in the past have ridden the wave of highs and lows during matches and have struggled to work themselves out of the latter, noting that the message to the team this season has been “let’s keep it together” on the court.

“We like to play catch-up or comeback, and we go to sleep for like 10 points and then it’s like we wanna come together and play,” Berry said. “So really finding that place where whether we’re up or down we can still motivate each other and keep that support going so we don’t find ourselves too deep in a hole.”

Skyline lost seven players from last season’s roster (four to graduation), including the team’s starting setter in Tamara Grayson and libero Leslie Rodriguez. The Hawks figure to have plenty of firepower, however, with the return of their top three hitters from last season in Smith (138 kills), Meador (112 kills, 29 blocks) and Schmitz (96 kills).

Berry added that junior Aaliyah Chunn would assume a bigger role as a middle hitter this season after the graduation of Courtney Brothers.

“It’s definitely exciting for us,” Berry said of having that experienced trio back. “Losing our setter was a hard spot but we definitely have the aggressive approach for those hitters. We’ve got our big seniors now. All four of them can bring a lot to the game, and Rileigh is now stepping in as libero since we lost (Leslie Rodriguez to graduation). They have big shoes to fill but they’re gonna play big roles this year.”

The Hawks will have to find players to set up opportunities for those hitters. Junior Adrianne Kinsey tallied 182 assists while playing behind Grayson last season and will step in as Skyline’s primary setter this year.

Berry added that the Hawks’ coaching staff is trying to groom two more setters for the position behind Kinsey, noting that freshman Kyra Whitmore is one that the coaches are trying to build up for bigger role.

“Setting’s the big one that we’re trying to recover from,” Berry said of the holes Skyline needs to fill this fall.

The Hawks scrimmaged Central on Wednesday and host Eastern View in their first regular season match next Tuesday. Smith said Skyline is still trying to solidify its starting lineup, while Berry added that she wants to see the team tighten up its passing over the next week before diving into the start of the season.

“They might not be the strongest team but I think that the unity that they have might take them a lot further than anybody would expect,” Berry said. “Having the strong seniors step up as leaders and after our little jamboree this weekend, very impressed with what they can do. It’s there, the potential’s there, and we’ll see.”