Royal Valley volleyball aims to keep momentum rolling in 2015
Given the historic season the Royal Valley volleyball team put together last fall; setting a school record for wins (26), claiming the program’s first sub-state championship and making its first-ever state tournament appearance, the Panthers weren’t lacking for success.
What the team was lacking when all was said and done, however, was a Big Seven League title. That’s something the 2015 Panthers plan to amend this season as they try to keep the momentum going following their third-place finish in Class 4A-DII last fall.
“I think this group has a great opportunity to try and continue on that tradition,” RVHS coach Denise Visocsky said.
Six varsity players return for Royal Valley who contributed to that record-setting team, including All-State selection Anna Johnson and All-Leaguer Sarah Beam.
With that amount of experience returning, the bar will be set high for the Panthers this fall as they look to make it back to the state tournament and pick up some league hardware along the way this time as well.
To do that, Visocsky noted her team will need to be consistent throughout the year and can’t go through another rollercoaster ride like it did in 2014. If the Panthers want to take charge of a league race that could be wide open this fall, she said her players will need to maintain focus the whole season.
Early on, though, RVHS will have to do so without the help of Sarah Beam, who could miss the first few weeks of the season due to illness. That will throw a wrench into the works as far as consistency is concerned and force some young players to step up for the team early.
Luckily, those young players have some good role models to look up to in a senior class that has already shown an ability to both push those players and work with them and teach them the system.
“We have really great leadership this year. Four of the five seniors were on the team last year and played full time, so they know what to expect and how to rise up to the occasion,” Visocsky said.
That will be especially crucial when it comes to defense as the Panthers have to make up for the loss of libero Jaycee Worrell and utility player Caitlin Burns, who both graduated in the spring. Those two covered a lot of ground last fall, leaving a big hole in the Panthers’ defense to start this season, and the team is well aware of that.
“I think they know we have some adjustments to make and some positions to improve in,” Visocsky said. “I don’t know for sure what we’re going to do on the back row, but I’ve told some of the younger kids that’s a great opportunity. You may see the floor a little bit on the back row and see what you can do.”
While team defense may be a struggle early, Visocsky is hoping someone will rise to the occasion and fill the gap for the Panthers. The good thing for Royal Valley is that as uncertain as the back row situation may be, it is the exact opposite on the front row.
Four of the team’s top five hitters return, including two stalwarts in the middle in Johnson and Kate Hanson. The pair also combined for 407 blocks a season ago.
Among the numerous veteran players, Beam also stood out on offense for the Panthers as she finished second in total kills (223) behind her sister, Hannah, who is now playing at Barton County Community College.
Still, while those players will undoubtedly have a hand in how far Royal Valley goes this fall, one of the key navigators steering the ship may be Macy Putnam, who Visocsky said will see a lot of court time in 2015.
“Macy Putnam just needs to hold the team together, really get them motivated and I think if she has a successful season then that’ll trickle down to everybody else,” Visocsky said.
The Panthers’ success a season ago and returning core is no secret, but because of the overall strength of the league, Visocsky said she feels her team is in the unique position of being both the frontrunner and the underdog at the same time.
Other Big Seven League teams know what Royal Valley can do and what carried the Panthers to postseason success last year. The pressing issue for the team itself is if it can evolve, if it can flesh out its defense and if the Panther players can come together and get on the same page.
Having so much success last year puts the Panthers in a different situation than they have been in years past, but Visocsky noted the team is ready to go and still aiming to add plaques to the wall in the RVHS gym and she believes fans will see that continued success in 2015.
“Last year we showed that we’re not going to be the team that rolls over and dies. We’re going to fight ‘til the bitter end and I think we’re going to continue that this year and have that attitude that we’ll be the team to beat,” Visocsky said.
Royal Valley will begin the season with a league contest against Atchison County Community High School in Effingham on Thursday, Sept. 3 at 5 p.m.
Returning starters/letter winners:
Anna Johnson, sr., 5’ 10”, middle hitter, All-State/All-League in 2014
Kate Hanson, sr., 5’ 9”, middle hitter
Macy Putnam, sr. 5’ 9”, right-side hitter
Erica Pruyser, sr., 5’ 7”, setter
Sarah Beam, jr., 5’ 8”, outside hitter, All-League in 2014
Ali Bryan, jr., 5’ 6”, setter