It is sometimes said a team is only as good as the sum of its parts. But when one or more parts, especially those in key roles, miss significant time or aren’t able to perform at 100%, it will be tough for that team to have truly shown what it could have done.
That was certainly the case for the Ottawa girls volleyball team last season, with multiple injuries and illnesses taking their toll en route to a 9-24-1 overall record and 3-11 mark in Interstate 8 Conference play.
Although a couple of players still are waiting to be cleared to return to practice or are working to get back to form, sixth-year coach Jenn Crum is expecting good things from her club while also keeping her fingers crossed for a healthy 2022 campaign.
“I’m expecting really good things from this group, especially when we get everyone that is coming off injuries back to 100%,” Crum said. “We’ve had three star players miss much of last season, which was tough, and I don’t think we were able to really show the team we could have been. There will be some unknowns at the start of the season with lineups changing and shuffling with different players getting back on the floor, but I’m also confident we will work through it. We just have to get and stay healthy.
“I feel we are at a pretty good point, not only for starting this season, but as a program in general. We will see how it goes, but I’m excited to see what this group can do.”
The roster has two seniors – middle hitter Mel Pries and right-side hitter Taryn Ruhland. Pries is coming off a season during which she recorded 74 kills, 28 blocks, 18 digs and 10 aces; while Ruhland played in only 11 sets before an injury cut her season short.
“Mel has, with putting her heart and soul into the sport, developed into a very good player over the last two years,” Crum said. “I’m excited to see her be even better this year.”
The Pirates will be counting on heavy contributions from junior outside hitters Ryleigh Stevenson and Alyssa Malmassari (starter as freshman but missed all but four sets to injury last year), middle hitter Cheyenne Joachim, defensive specialists Reese Burgwald and Haley Waddell, as well as setter Olivia Evola.
Stevenson, a three-year starter, produced 86 kills, 22 aces and 68 digs last fall. Crum feels her game will be even better this season.
“She is going to be a key player for us,” Crum said. “She has really worked on perfecting her six-rotation game so she can be on the court more than she has in the past.”
Joachim, a second-team selection to The Times All-Area team, paced the Pirates in kills with 99 to go along with 29 blocks and 16 aces. Burgwald posted a team-best 142 digs with 24 unreturned serves, and Waddell registered 74 digs and 13 aces.
“We have the hitters that can put the ball in the different places where they need to go. ...” Crum said. “We don’t have 6-foot players, but we are going to come knocking on your door with scrappy players that are willing to go the extra mile and have put in the extra work.”
Evola, Crum said, enters the season strong both physically and with her play after passing off for 158 assists in 2021.
The Ottawa roster is rounded out by juniors Ellee Perry (DS), Kate Landers (switched roles from S to DS), Issy Liebhart (RS) and Lauren Denny (MH/RS), as well as twin sophomores Skylar Dorsey (S) and Ayla Dorsey (MH).
“We have been working a lot on speed,” Crum said. “We want to be faster in the offense and quick on defense. We will be doing some things that maybe we haven’t done in the past, because these girls can do it and execute it.”
Ottawa opens its season Aug. 25 by hosting Route 23 rival Streator and will begin its league season the following Tuesday at Morris.