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With three returning seniors on the roster, Ridgway head girls varsity volleyball coach Janet Redmond has placed leadership duties squarely on their shoulders as they head into the new season.
"The strongpoint of this team I think will be Nicole Breier," said Ridgway head girls varsity volleyball coach Janet Redmond, now in her fourth year at the helm of the program. "She's complemented by fellow seniors Erica Thorwart and Emily Ames, and [junior] Katie Oknefski, another player who has done a wonderful job, and she's going to be a middle hitter for us this year plus be a setter.
"Ellie Woodford will be back row and our main setter."
Redmond also looks for significant contributions from her underclassmen as well.
"Some of the younger girls coming in, Jenna Hoffman, Maria Buhler and Sarah McClain are all terrific outside hitters who have stepped up to the plate," Redmond said. "It's really nice to see that."
To prepare for the season, the Lady Elkers have been busy playing throughout the summer and the team recently attended an instructional camp at Penn State University.
"The ninth-graders who are now sophomores have really improved within the last year, it's just amazing the difference that a year makes and they've really come a long way and they've impressed me a lot," Redmond said. "They've given 110 percent in practice and it just amazes me.
"With hard work and if we keep playing to improve in every game, I think we're going to be fine."
Another strongpoint for the team this year will be a talented bench, something that Redmond said seemed to be lacking last year.
"Last year, we didn't have a sizable bench to substitute players but this year, I do have that," Redmond said. "I feel that if someone is having a bad night, I do have that replacement for that player and I think that will benefit us in the long run.
"That's a really good thing to have and if you don't have a reliable bench in place, you're hurting.
"We've been working throughout the summer with open gym sessions and in the St. Marys league, and going to camp. The juniors really came together so early on in the season and that's good to see, and hopefully they can keep that up."
In terms of competition this year, Redmond said she anticipates several powerhouses to emerge as the team works toward consistent play throughout the season.
"Our first game is against Punxsutawney and that's a rough one but I hope that our players are in game shape to the point where they'll be able to last through the tough stretches of the season and go through without injury," Redmond said. "That's my only fear, the injuries-- we just have to stay healthy. That was a problem last year, the injuries and the lack of a bench.
"Either way, you can't really replace Erica Thorwart. She is a hustler, 110 percent she's out there and going for everything, and you can really count on her. With [Thorwart] being a senior, I really put a lot of the responsibility on her getting these girls together and they're doing a good job, and I'm impressed."
Redmond is joined by junior varsity coach Kayleen Ford, and assistant coaches Chris Woodford and Dan Healy.