NEW FRANKLIN When Chelsea Truax took over the head coaching duties at Manchester a year ago she was looking to restore the pride in a once-prominent program.
The Panthers were able to make strides toward that mark as they more than doubled their win total from the previous season, triumphing in 11 games after a five-win season in 2016.
With that growth to build on, Truax sees a chance to take another big step forward for the program this fall.
"My expectations for this season is for our team to continue to grow, and improve each match and improve our record," said Truax, whose club finished 11-13 overall, and 5-7 in league play, last season. "Looking back on last year, we took many teams to four or five sets and I believe if we would have executed earlier in the sets, we could have pulled out a handful more of wins."
One element of taking that next step is being competitive in every set of every match and not taking any sets off. Truax also reminds her players to play as one cohesive unit and to continue learning the game and learning about each other as they go along.
The Panthers will return a wealth of talents to the courts this season as eight of their top 10 players are back, including a pair of second-team all-district honorees in senior setter Maddy McFadden and junior middle blocker Amber Fox.
McFadden ranked in the top 10 in aces, assists and hitting percentage in the Principals Athletic Conference last season, but it’s her energy on the court that Truax talks about first.
"She is a very passionate player, and is very fun to watch. She will pursue almost any ball, and is notorious for pancaking many balls throughout the match," Truax said.
Fox, meanwhile, led the conference in blocks and her coach believes she has improved not only her skills at the net, but her ability to read the setter and her overall hitting style.
"She has also really impressed me with her leadership and love for the game," Truax said. "Her pure knowledge of the game is very impressive and is that sets her apart from others and makes her a big time threat, while in the game."
Alongside Fox and McFadden, Manchester welcomes back seniors Kylie Bowser (outside hitter/defensive specialist), Bailee Bryant (middle hitter), Ciera McClain (defensive specialist), and juniors Emily Rucker (outside hitter), Grace Garritano (setter) and Maddie Kotsalieff (right side hitter).
Bowser’s consistency is an asset the Panthers will rely on, according to Truax, while Bryant was second in the league in blocks and should form an imposing duo up front. Rucker will be counted on as a server and Garritano as a passer who ranked in the league’s top 10 in assists.
A few newcomers that Truax will count on this season are junior Ella Hettich (defensive specialist) and sophomores Sadie Reedy (libero/defensive specialist) and Karli Anker (defensive specialist/outside hitter/right side hitter).
With that group, the team’s strengths figure to be experience and depth.