NEWARK – It took some time for Newark volleyball coach Holly Culver to get her team assembled.
It appears to have happened just in time. The Wildcats picked up two wins in three matches in Culver’s Newark coaching debut this past Saturday, and they take early-season momentum into Thursday’s Ohio Capital Conference-Ohio Division opener at Pickerington North. The wins came on the heels of a spirited second set against Granville the night before during the Newark Catholic Preview.
Culver previously won three sectional titles in four seasons as coach at Sheridan.
“We’ve had hurdles to overcome, but we’ve really come together as a team,” said Culver, referencing a couple of players recently returning from injuries suffered during the summer. “Everybody trusts each other, and that is what you need to win.”
Newark has a lot of players new to the varsity level, but the Wildcats do have a security blanket. Juniors Makala Cook and Tana Barrett bring back the most experience and threats at the net.
The pair combined for 19 kills in a three-set victory against Fisher Catholic to cap off Saturday’s performance. The leaping ability that took Barrett to the Division I state track meet in the high jump can turn an average pass into a perfect one. That should help the confidence for the new junior setting duo of Josie Grashel and Darion Kiger.
The Wildcats also have juniors Brooke Donaker and Takia Barrett to provide some offense in the front row. Sophomore Madisen Queen is a defensive dynamo and will help seniors Destiny Roberts and Aneesa Smith and junior Hannah Petrella contend with the powerful attacks the Wildcats see on a nightly basis in the OCC-Ohio.
“At the beginning, we were nervous because we didn’t know what to expect and we had already proved ourselves to two coaches,” Cook said. “We gave her a chance, we opened ourselves up to her, and she have given us so many opportunities.”
Defense will have to be a team effort. The more blocking the players at the net can provide, the better chance the back row has at getting the attacks countered and sent to Grashel and Kiger.
“You have to be able to trust your teammates and know that they are going to back you up and do their jobs,” Culver said. “This team does a really good job with that. They work well together.”
Newark went through a year of transition in 2013, attempting to replace graduated star Anni Thomasson and retired coach Ruth Sunkle. The Wildcats finished with nine wins, nearly capping their home season with an upset of rival Lancaster.
Unfortunately, coach Doug Franz moved on after just one season, but Culver said the girls were not discouraged. In fact, they welcomed her with open arms.
“I said that I am here for the long haul,” Culver said. “We have kept some of the things that they had worked on, but we have also implemented some of mine. They are picking it up really well.”
The Wildcats already are well on their way.
“We are excited to go, and we are ready to show what we have,” Cook said. “We are going in a little cocky because we know we can do it.”