Ridgway volleyball celebrates record-breaking season

The Ridgway Lady Elker volleyball team celebrated its 2011 season with a banquet Thursday night at Francis S. Grandinetti Elementary School. Varsity head coach Janet Redmond welcomed everyone and expressed appreciation to the coaching staff which consists of Kayleen Ford, Chris Woodford and Dan Healy, a newcomer to the staff this season. She also recognized the booster club with the members being Woodford, Mike and Carol Ames and Keith and Debbie Oknefski along with parents who helped at the concession stand. Redmond recognized Steve Amacher for taking pictures and creating posters in the gym along with the families of the volleyball players, Charlotte the bus driver and Steve and Pam Lynch for working the scoreboard and doing the home scorebooks. Athletic director Manny Barbazzeni was recognized as was the cafeteria workers for the meal. High school principal Heather McMahon-Vargas along with Superintendant Dr. Michael O’Brien and his wife were recognized. This season was one of Ridgway’s best in school history as the team finished with an 18-2 record and finished third in the district at the Final Four, the first time the school had made it that far in the playoffs. “I always tell the girls, it’s all about making memories,” Redmond said. “They made some great memories this year. They also broke many records.”Ridgway opened the first six weeks of the season without a loss at 13-0. Ridgway won the Elk County Tournament for the first time on the first weekend of the season as well to culminate a week where Ridgway won over Punxsutawney, Union and Johnsonburg. “We started off with another tough first week this season with Punxsy, Union and Johnsonburg. They really impressed me that week, they just played so well together. I knew then that it was going to be a great year.”Aspirations of a spot in the Final Four were there for Ridgway from the start of the season. “That was our goal this year,” Redmond said. “We have made the playoffs the last three years and last year we won in the first round. This year was different. I think attending the Penn State Camp in July was the beginning. I saw a lot of determination with some of the younger girls. What a difference a year makes from being a freshman playing JV to being a sophomore. With only three returning seniors, we were adding some younger girls into the mix and I think they worked very well together.”Maria Buhler, Jenna Hoffman and Sarah McClain were among those who were letter winners for the Lady Elkers this season. Dani Shirey received a Dedication Certificate for her presence around the team this season even though she was unable to play.“She showed up to practice and the games knowing she wouldn’t see a minute of playing time,” Redmond said. Hoffman received the Most Improved Award. “She’s a very serious and determined athlete that only wants the best for her team,” Redmond said. “She had 158 service points, 17 kills and 51 digs. She impressed me early on while attending Penn State Camp. I remember looking at Coach Chris and saying ‘Wow, what a difference a year makes, she came alive.’ During the middle of the season, she struggled with her serves but was determined to get it and she did. “She started out as an outside hitter and back row specialist,” Redmond said. “I had the utmost confidence that she could handle the hard hits and manage the back row defense for our team. So we moved our lineup around near the end of the season to keep her in the back row on every play. She did a fantastic job this year and I know she will be a great asset to the team in her remaining years.”Nicole Breier and Katie Oknefski shared the Best Offensive Player award. Redmond first spoke about Breier. “This girl is going to be hard to replace,” Redmond said. “It was exciting to watch her play. She had 111 service points, 71 blocks, she was second in digs with 55 and she had 283 kills. She can place the ball when the defense breaks down. It was my pleasure coaching her for the past four years. We worked on her hitting a quick set and the first time she was able to perform it in a game was so exciting. I turned and hit both Coach Kayleen and Chris. Coach Healy was able to help the girls accomplish this and we all owe him a lot of thanks. I wish you all the best with your future plans and I am going to miss you.”Redmond spoke about Oknefski and her talents. “She was the top in assists with 274 and she had 38 blocks, 179 serve points and 252 kills,” Redmond said. “She gives 110 percent each time she enters the court. She is an excellent setter and this year she worked on becoming a fantastic hitter. She’s an athlete that can see what’s open as she is going up to hit the ball. “She has a natural talent and we knew she was going to be a good volleyball player. She has worked very hard to get to where she is today. Thank goodness we have her one more year. Remember underclassmen, working hard does pay off. Nicole and Katie are best friends so it’s only fitting that they share this award. Their offensive play was so important to our team."Breier also was the scholar-athlete award winner. “To be dedicated to her sport and also her schoolwork is a great achievement,” Breier said. “Our season starts in August with 3-hour practices every night and our first week of the season we had three games and we won all three. To keep their grades up takes some time management.”Erica Thorwart won the Best Defensive Player Award and was also named as the team’s MVP.“This is another player that is going to be hard to replace,” Redmond said. “She’s a fantastic back row specialist with 134 digs while leading in service points with 182 and also having 35 kills. She is a true athlete. She’s able to dig up some powerful hits from the surrounding teams. I have the utmost confidence with her in the back row. She is going to be sadly missed. She is a very determined player that plays in pain every game but never wants to give up. She flies all over the court. “Toward the end of the season, we moved her to the front row and worked on her hitting again. During our first playoff game against Redbank, that move paid off. She had eight kills and having another player contributing to our offense was crucial. I wish you all the best with your future plans and I am going to miss you."Emily Ames won the Jackie Renaud Award. “This girl gives all she has and wants only the best for her team,” Redmond said. “She did a great job in the back row this year and was able to pass up some hard kills. She kept her feet moving, judged the hit and got where she needed to be. She worked on her overhand serve all year, we were able to give her a chance to serve during the game. It was so exciting to see her achieve her goal. I wish you all the best with your future plans and I am going to miss you.” Ellie Woodford won the coach’s award. “She did a fantastic job this year,” Redmond said. “She was third in service points at 170 and second in assists at 245. She had 42 digs in the back row and made some impossible sets that most setters wouldn’t even attempt. She also has a great fake play, she calls out a play and just places the ball in the corner. I keep pushing her to move quicker but I know she has what it takes to be a great player. As a coach, we challenge the girls and want them to keep pushing for perfection.”The seniors presented the Elk County Tournament championship trophy to Vargas to put in the school’s trophy case. The team also had a banner made to recognize the Elk County Tournament victory in the gym from the 2011 season.