Cass volleyball head coach Alan Potter lost half of his 2018 varsity roster to graduation. However, the belief within the program is that a combination of five solid returners and the additions of several promising pieces from last year's JV squad makes for a more successful 2019 season.
The deciding factor, though, will be how well those two groups of Colonels meld together to form a cohesive unit.
“So far, it looks like some of the things we’ve done the past couple of years, where we’ve brought a few players up to varsity — not even in matches but just in practices — to get involved [have worked],” Potter said. “We got the seniors and the other varsity players to kind of have a big sister-little sister thing. I think that’s helped us. We’ve eliminated some of the social awkwardness of moving up from JV to varsity. …
“We made them feel at home, even before they made the varsity team. I think that’s going to help us out.”
Potter is a firm believer in the power of team chemistry. He even has gone so far as to coach some of the JV practice, while having the JV coaches lead the varsity, in hopes of getting the players on both teams to view themselves as part of one connected program.
“You can teach anybody where to stand, how to hit the ball and the essentials,” Potter said, “but if you’re not familiar with each other and you don’t mesh together as a team, then you’re not going anywhere as a team. I guess that’s true in any sport, but I look at volleyball a little bit differently. It’s one of the few sports you can’t do it on your own. You can only hit the ball one time.”
For as much as Potter can wax lyrical about the positive relationship between his players, a coach never quite knows how a team will respond until faced with actual in-game adversity. Cass will possibly be confronted with that when it opens the season Thursday evening at Pepperell, and if not, the Colonels will certainly have moments of uncertainty Saturday in Adairsville's Welcome to the Jungle tournament.
“I’m always anxious to get going in a season just to see how everybody reacts, how much we’ve learned, how far we’ve come and how well we play together as a team,” Potter said. “I don’t think you can do that in playdates and practice. I think you have to actually get out there on the court against a team you’ve maybe never even seen before. … I think that’s when you really find out where you’re at. It also tells you what you need to work on, and that’s a very valuable part to take away from things.”
There are still a few players Potter can rely upon, regardless of what's happening elsewhere on the court. Chief among them is senior setter Madison Philpott, who has earned a spot on the Daily Tribune News all-county team each of the past two seasons.
“She is the key,” Potter said. “Really, in all honesty, she probably has been [the key] for this is now her fifth season at Cass — four on varsity and one on JV. I always say, she was good enough the year she was in eighth grade, she could have played varsity. She’s just that good of a player. She’s the type of player that makes everybody else on the team look good. She’s all over the court. She gets to everything.
“She’s our No. 1 player without a doubt. She’s outstanding, and I hope she continues to improve and lands somewhere on a college team and plays some volleyball there, too. She’s going to be essential to our success this year.”
Another senior with a chance to make a massive impact for Cass will be Keegan Krause. After showing plenty of ability last year, Krause will see her role expand and possibly change following the departure of several of the Colonels' top hitters.
“She’s going to be critical, as well, moving from an outside position probably into the middle,” Potter said of Krause.
The team's other two seniors — Riley Nelson and Makina Gorham — both had positive moments off the bench in 2018, showing flashes of their ability.
Among those players who were on JV last season, Potter expects junior Avery Morlot to make an immediate difference, saying she could have probably played on varsity last year, and sophomore Maria Piliposyans to have significant long-term potential.
“She’s going to be awesome,” Potter said of Piliposyans. “She’s in development right now, getting used to the game. But she’ll be good for us the later part of this year and definitely her junior and senior years.”
All told, Potter seems confident his team has the individual skills to possibly compete for a playoff spot out of Region 7-AAAAA. That being said, he knows the Colonels' level of success will be decided by the capacity for this year's 10 varsity players to come together as one complete unit.
“We seem to be OK with out talent,” Potter said. “Again, if we can get everybody used to being a team, as a whole, and used to each other, I think that’s going to be 90% of our battle.”