WILLIAMSBURG – When Shari McKibben took the reins of Williamsburg High School’s varsity volleyball program prior to the 2014 season, she did not have to change much.
The Wildcats had won three of the past four Southern Buckeye Academic Athletic Conference National Division championships. This season, a young squad continued the program’s tradition of winning, posting a 17-6 overall mark and advancing to the district final.
“Our success is because the foundation has been laid by so many coaches,” said McKibben. “We’ve been building up the program the last couple of years thanks to great coaching at all levels.”
Despite relying entirely on underclassmen, the Wildcats posted the program’s winningest season since 2011. Playing without an experienced star or two actually benefited Williamsburg. Opponents had to prepare for the entire lineup. On any given night, any Wildcat could step up as the team’s most effective performer.
“Any night, a defense would have to focus on many players,” said McKibben. “We had many strong players, not just one or two that a defense had to worry about.”
Underclassmen contributors made a huge impact on the varsity program. Setters Payton Fisher, a freshman, and Kelly Brown, a sophomore, keyed the Wildcats’ attack. Sophomore Aubrey Young battled back from injury, while her classmate Emily McKibben impressed with her passing skills.
“They really stepped up their level of play,” said McKibben.
Williamsburg relied on those young players not just to play key roles on the court, but to provide the leadership that usually comes from seasoned veterans. The young Wildcats played and prepared with maturity beyond their years. They entered each match with confidence.
“I was very pleased with our leadership, which started with the personality of our setters,” said McKibben. “You couldn’t ask for more positive leadership on the court. Our goal was to walk off the court knowing that we should beat teams that we should beat. Our girls can walk off the court with their head held high.”
The Wildcats were often competing against teams with older and more experienced players. They took some lumps this season, but that was to be expected. The young roster grew and matured over the course of the season.
“This year is chalked up to a learning year,” said McKibben. “Going from eighth grade to competing against seniors, there’s going to be growing pains.”
Without a single senior on the roster, the Wildcats had the odds stacked against them. Yet, the young squad made the most of their opportunities this season. Expectations were not nearly as high entering 2014 as they will be entering the 2015 season.
“The girls understand the game so much more,” said McKibben. “The foundation has been laid. I truly think that next year should be our year to shine.”