In his 18th season as head volleyball coach of Western Tech, Eric Jett has maintained the same philosophy at the beginning of the season.
“We play for the end of the year,” Jett said. “We play for the last month and so everything is just so up in the air right now, we try and get everybody time in games, time in scrimmages, time in practices and see how it’s all piecing together.”
Twice in those previous 17 seasons the end came in the state championship semifinals, after the Wolverines won regional titles.
The first was 2011 and the second came last year when the Wolverines went 15-4 and defeated Dunbar, 25-16, 25-7, 25-5, for the Class 1A North Region crown.
They were swept in three sets by Smithsburg in the state semis.
Smithsburg went on to win its fourth straight state title and 13th in school history.
Western Tech will open the season hosting Loch Raven on Tuesday, Sept. 4 at 5 p.m.
Last year, the Wolverines eliminated the Raiders in the regional semifinals, 25-15, 25-16, 25-21.
Jett noted that during the regular season the Wolverines beat the Raiders in four games but, before the season, they lost to them in a scrimmage.
“Last year’s team, because of their attitude and because of the way they jelled together and because of the type of people they were, we were able to get significantly better throughout the year and that’s always our goal,” said Jett, whose 2017 squad also defeated Catonsville for the first time in school history.
The 2018 Wolverines had a scrimmage with Lansdowne and participated in a playday at McDonogh and Jett had a couple of positive takeaways from the playday.
“I was impressed with our ability to make teams pay when they don’t run offense against us,” he said. “That was something that we saw that we don’t always see this time of the year. We did a very efficient job of doing that.”
He was also impressed with his team’s defense.
“We never let the ball hit the floor. They hustle their tails off,” Jett said.
The Wolverines have seven returning players from last year’s squad and six of them played club volleyball over the summer.
The veterans that saw significant playing time last fall are senior libero Carley Boarman, junior setter Beatrice Daudelin and junior hitters Rachel Durham and Avaion Barry.
Seniors Maya Thurston, Jamiah Pilgrim and junior Sheri Adewumi also have varsity experience.
Newcomers to the varsity are senior Hafsah Ebrahim, juniors Kaiya Fox, Kieran Ray and Anisah Weaver and sophomores Jazmyne Carr and Megan Badham.
Ray also played club volleyball, so experience on the court is not a problem.
“As far as talent goes, we are just as talented, if not more so, than last year’s team,” Jett said. “We certainly have the potential to outperform last year’s team volleyball-wise, but we’ve lost a decent amount of experience in those three girls that we lost.”
They graduated seniors Brea Thomas, Emily Badin and Imari Cooper and that trio provided inspiration on and off the court, whether the Wolverines were winning or losing.
“It’s really hard to have a team come together like that and what those girls brought in terms of an environment in which we could grow every practice, every day, was chemistry,” Jett said. “How they all jelled together as a team is incomparable, so who we going to be, how are we going to approach practices and games, I don’t have any idea.”
One thing he has an idea about is having fun.
“(Coach) Jett really makes that a point, like Jett is so much fun and he helps us be fun,” said Daudelin, who has more fun when she sets a teammate for a dominant kill. “I like setting my best friends up and watching them just pound the ball. It makes me so happy to see.”
Daudelin will have to adjust to targeting new hitters after losing the energetic Cooper.
“It was really tough to lose her, but Rachel Durham is really stepping up and she is pounding the ball so hard,” Daudelin said. “She is such a good hitter and Avaion Barry is doing amazing too.”
Boarman is the leader of the defense that will include defensive specialist Badham.
“We have a really strong corps, which I expect to really lead the team, but we do have to catch our sophomores and new juniors up to speed,” Boarman said. “I just expect us to have a bond, like we did last year, where even if we are losing, we are going to still have fun playing volleyball.”
Boarman felt that vibe during the playday.
“At first, we were kind of nervous because a lot of people are younger and they’ve never been there, but I think we just started having fun and playing a little looser,” Boarman said. “I think it’s just they need to get comfortable with the speed and just each other.”
She has confidence they can develop as well as last year’s team.
“I definitely have confidence that we can do it, but we need to make sure everyone sees the same vision,” Boarman said.
Jett hopes to wear the victory goggles too, but he’s not going to worry about early-season setbacks and a tough schedule that includes road games at defending Baltimore County runner-up Hereford (Sept. 6) and at defending county champion Towson (Sept. 11).
“We do a lot of evaluation this time of year and we will have a lot of players in a lot of positions, even in matches,” Jett noted. “At the start of our year, we try and win, but we treat them as learning experiences. I am still trying to get to know this team and I’m still waiting to see a little bit of how they jell with each other.”
The 2017 regional championship banner is hanging in the gym, but the coach knows it’s a different year with a new group.
“It (championship) is all in the past. We talk about it and we have a banner up there and we talk about moving it to put up another one,” Jett said. “We know our goals, but we are also acutely aware that we have a lot of work to do.”