NEW FRANKLIN Coming off a 5-18 campaign with just one senior on the roster, first-year Manchester volleyball head coach Chelsea Truax knew she had her work cut out for her this season.
In order to get Manchester's volleyball program back on track, Truax knew she needed to infuse energy into the squad and do so with a lot of young players on the roster. In addition to the youth movement, the Panthers also faced a formidable schedule with a pair of state-ranked conference schools - Tusky Valley (second in Division III), and Triway (13th in Division II).
It didn’t look like a recipe for a lot of success, but Manchester has been able to find its niche in putting together a solid ledger.
"I'm very pleased with our season as we are a young team, being as we only have one senior," Truax said. "This is my first year coaching the team at the high school level, but I did have the pleasure of coaching all the girls that are on the varsity and JV in middle school in eighth grade, so it was nice having a rapport with all of my players prior to the season. Overall, I believe our record doesn't indicate our growth as a team or as individuals and the accomplishments we have had thus far in the season."
Entering the final week of the regular season, the Panthers (7-11 overall), have already surpassed last year's win total with and have registered three conference wins after going winless in the Principals Athletic Conference in 2016.
Manchester will open up its postseason Oct. 17 at the Smithville Division III sectionals against Our Lady of the Elms, hoping to add a few tournament victories to its season of growth. The Panthers are led by a talented group of underclassmen, including sophomores Amber Fox (middle hitter), Selena Echevarria (libero), and Emily Rucker (outside hitter) and juniors Bailee Bryant (middle hitter) and Maddy McFadden (setter).
The lone senior on the squad is Samantha Bartolet (right side hitter).
"Samantha (Bartolet) is our lone senior and has shown to be a true leader on and off the court. She is encouraging and currently the only player with 100 percent serving average. She is a smart player that often knows what spots are open, and where to go defensively," Truax said.
The first-year head coach noted that Fox, Rucker, McFadden, Ehevarria and Bryant each bring something different to the team. Fox’s court intelligence at middle hitter has her leading the team in blocks and kills and according to Truax, she’s able to control rallies thanks to her ability to handle the ball. Rucker, who leads the team in service points and aces, has had several double-digit scoring outings and is most effective with her jump serve.
With versatility from McFadden and the work Ehevarria has put in at libero (defensive specialist), Manchester has two players who contribute in ways that don’t always show up on the stat sheet, but do show up in the win column.
One of the players on the roster who has seen her role change the most is Bryant, who moved to middle hitter and is second on the team in blocks. Truax pointed to her ability to track the ball well as one of the big reasons for her success.
As tournament time approaches, Truax would like to see continued growth for her young crew.
"We would like to continue to build a positive team culture, and most importantly, have fun while doing so," she said. "Our expectations heading into the tournament is to continue to play as a team, keep our focus, continue to progress in the composure we have shown so far this season, and to have the confidence that we can compete."