Cassi Stein almost was apologetic about her role for Licking Valley this season.
Not one to intentionally steal the spotlight, it was coach Abby Fitz who often needed to remind Stein she was the focal point of the Panthers’ attack.
“It was nice being the go-to player, but it also (was) kind of nerve-racking because they knew it would be going to me,” Stein said. “I had to be sure and know what I was going to do next. I had to know where the blockers were and see the floor well.”
The nerves certainly did not slow her down. Stein, who averaged 4.3 kills per set, often got them with the match on the line. She led the Panthers to the Licking County League title, was named the league Player of the Year, and is The Advocate’s 2013 Volleyball Player of the Year.
Stein had 19 kills in a five-set victory at Newark Catholic to open LCL play. Her 22 kills and four blocks in the rematch, also a Valley victory that went the distance, proved to be the difference in the league race.
“I would give the look to the setter like, ‘You know who to give it to,'” Fitz said. “They understood that. In tight situations, she was the one we wanted to have the ball.”
Stein’s versatility was her biggest asset. With Valley having graduated middle blocker Abby Bretz and losing outside hitter Sierra McConnell to injury, Stein did the work of an entire front line at times.
Stein’s array of spikes and tips never came from the same spot. Her experience with setter Laikyn Hrinko built during the years of playing together allowed Hrinko to find Stein when opponents rarely could.
“(Hrinko) did really well with getting me the ball,” Stein said. “We talked about where I needed her to set it. I think it did work out really well because we did have that chemistry from a while back.”
Stein was happy to share the spotlight. Seniors Brittney Wilson and Carrie McArtor and junior Mackenzie Hoyt took advantage of their opportunities in the front row but, as sets tightened, Fitz knew where she wanted the ball.
“Being able to use her versatility and aggressiveness — we had to be creative with where she was coming from — was to our benefit,” Fitz said. “She knew coming into this season that she was going to be one of our go-to players. She had to take on more than one role almost. She was able to accept that because that comes with a lot of pressure.”
Stein played all around the court, finishing among the team leaders in digs with 194, and her 63 aces — using an often deadly jump serve — led the Panthers.
Stein recently signed to play college basketball at Wheeling Jesuit next winter. Fitz said college coaches routinely call about Stein playing volleyball instead. She is sticking with basketball, but Fitz is happy she found time to do both during high school.
“I would probably say I have never coached anyone quite like her,” Fitz said. “She is always positive. That is not fake. What you see from her is what she is. She works hard, wants to be better, and wants her teammates to be better. She is one of a kind.”
Stein would not have been anywhere else. In 2011, the Panthers won their first league title since 1985. A year ago, they finished as Division II district runners-up, and Stein and her classmates left the program as LCL champions.
“We beat Newark Catholic three times in a row, and that was a big deal for us,” Stein said. “I had never won anything in Newark Catholic’s gym. I am glad that I can finally say that I have.”