Coach Connie Halfaker sees a unified volleyball team
By Joe Naiman
Practice for Ramona High School’s volleyball team began Aug. 16, and today’s seven-school scrimmage at Mount Carmel will give the Bulldogs competitive experience against other squads.
“We are ready,” said Ramona coach Connie Halfaker. “This team is already unified. It seems like we’ve been in the gym for a month and a half, not a week and a half.”
The Bulldogs return three of last year’s starters and a total of five players who spent all of 2010 on the varsity, so they had somewhat of a head start on team chemistry.
“The last two weeks we’ve been developing a lot of mechanics and fitness,” Halfaker said.
A major advantage for the Bulldogs is that 2010 starting setter Mikayla Derochie will once again play that position.
“She is developing into one of the top setters in our league,” Halfaker said. “We’re still in the Palomar League, so that’s saying something.”
Derochie is a junior this year.
“She really improved on her leadership ability, being able to run the floor and understanding how to create offensive opportunities for us,” Halfaker said.
The other two returning starters are middle blockers and seniors. Alexis Sharpe will be one of the middle blockers this year.
“She’s our seasoned middle, and she has the ability to run,” Halfaker said. “She adds variety to her offensive attributes.”
Michaela Owens was the other starting middle blocker in 2010, although her ability to play several positions will allow Halfaker to utilize her as a utility player.
“She can play anywhere,” Halfaker said. “She can do everything.”
Neither Halfaker or Owens interpreted the move as a demotion.
“She’ll choose to be supportive wherever she is,” Halfaker said. “She’ll take that role and she’ll never miss a beat.”
That will allow junior Kelsie Whitten, who was on Ramona’s junior varsity last year before seeing some varsity action during the CIF playoffs, to move into a starting middle blocker role.
“She’s made a tremendous amount of physical progress already,” Halfaker said of Whitten. “She’s going to be a very strong asset.”
Whitten’s strength is her blocking, but Halfaker will play Owens as much as possible at some position when the senior doesn’t need a break.
“That kind of value, you can’t replace somebody like Michaela to be whatever the team needs at the moment,” Halfaker said.
Ramona’s two starting outside hitters had some varsity experience last year. Jenna Hickle, now a junior, was a backup in 2010.
“She’s stepped into a starting role,” Halfaker said.
Senior Samantha Waelchli was a transfer last year and had to wait for CIF clearance.
“She got some playing time during playoffs,” Halfaker said.
“The two of them are going to hold down our outside very well,” Halfaker said of Hickle and Waelchli. “They’re going to be very involved in all the ball control aspects as well.”
In 2010, Nicole Darrough was a defensive specialist and backup opposite hitter on the varsity. This year the senior will be the team’s libero.
“She’s going to be extremely effective,” said Halfaker. “She is fast and confident and focused — very, very focused — and she is determined to take care of business back there.”
Sophomore Abby Roulier, who spent last year on the junior varsity squad, will be the starting opposite hitter.
“Her potential is unlimited,” Halfaker said.
Roulier is the daughter of freshman coach Leasa Roulier. Last year Jessica Berman was cut as a junior and opted to serve as an assistant coach on the freshman team.
Berman also coached an Amateur Athletic Union team during the off-season. This year she will be making her varsity debut as a defensive specialist.
“Through her coaching she developed a very keen awareness of the things she needed to improve on, and she came into tryouts and impressed everybody,” Halfaker said. “I think it’s an example to kids everywhere.”
Juniors Sarah Kosut and Julie Vorhes, both on the junior varsity in 2010, will also be defensive specialist replacements. Sophomore Carolyn Buggeln, who spent last year on the junior varsity, will be the backup outside hitter.
Jeff Klauda is Halfaker’s varsity assistant coach, and Kyle Adelman is coaching the junior varsity squad.
“Very happy with the team. The energy in the gym is 100 percent forward focused,” Halfaker said. “It’s like they want more and more and more every day, but it’s with a smile on their faces and eagerness in their eyes.”
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