NORTH CANTON Second place in Federal League volleyball has a different meaning than it does in most leagues.
With perennial power Jackson having notched its seventh straight undefeated league season, whoever comes in second can still have a great season and not earn a trophy for it. This season, the Hoover Vikings were the team on the Polar Bears’ tail, finishing the regular season with a 15-7 overall record and 9–3 league mark.
First-year head coach Amanda Humphrey, who took over the program after coaching the past two seasons at nearby Lake Center Christian, likes what her new team accomplished and believes it could have been even better.
"Finishing second to Jackson is a pretty good accomplishment, but we played well at times and other times we played down to the level of our competition and lost matches we shouldn’t have lost," Humphrey said.
Humphrey, who has taught in the district for five years but only took over as head coach in March, admitted that because she hasn’t had many of her players in class, she didn’t know most of them when she became coach.
Still, she was pleasantly surprised at how many players consistently came out for offseason activities and noted that the numbers were much higher at Hoover than they were at Lake Center Christian.
"I was really impressed with the overall commitment level. At Lake Center, I struggled to get kids to come out for things, but when we started in March here, I had 30 players at every open gym," Humphrey said. "You started to run out of space, which is a good problem to have."
One of the players who came out for the team was Annie Roshak, a basketball player Humphrey wasn’t expecting to play volleyball. However, Roshak settled in so well that she became both a setter and hitter for the Vikings and has taken quickly to the sport.
Senior Madison Cropper and junior Carly Tenaglia have also made their mark on the team, with Tenaglia the player Hoover most often directed the ball to when in need of a big hit to put away a point.
Cropper emerged as the team’s defensive specialist, helping fortify a defense that kept the Vikings from losing more than two games in a row at any point this season.
Across the board, Humphrey was excited to see the level of focus and dedication the team brought to the table and that bodes well moving forward.
"They’re all really hard workers. They want to get better and learn the game," Humphrey said.
Aside from two losses to Jackson, Hoover was able to avenge its only other league loss, a five-set battle early in the season with Perry. When the two teams faced off later in the year, it was the Vikings who emerged victorious in a five-set match that showed they had learned and adapted based on their first match with the Panthers.
Rising to second place in the league is a positive sign for Hoover in its first season under its new coach, but all involved know that taking the next step and chasing down a Jackson program that has dominated the league for the past decade is an even bigger task.
One piece of good news is that with four juniors, two sophomores and two freshmen on the roster, the Vikings should have a solid base of experienced players returning next season. While the four seniors - Cropper, Kayla VanNatten, Susie Black and Alaina Budimlic - will be missed, eight returns is a good number for a program looking to build some continuity and move forward in its growth.
Second place isn’t where the Vikings want to be in the long run, but for now it’s a sign that they’re trending in the right direction.
Reach Andy at 330-580-8936
On Twitter: @aharrisBURB