Warriors Notch Stellar Mark in Shortened Season
Senior captain libero Emma Counter and the Valley Regional girls’ volleyball team had a stellar showing this season and earned the No. 2 seed in the Shoreline Conference Tournament before having to bow out of the bracket due to a spike in positive COVID-19 tests at the high school. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain setter Alena Crosby helped propel the Warriors to an 8-1 record this year and All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors in the process. Also pictured is junior Ella Pitman. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain Jamie Pullin and the Warriors spent weeks practicing in the Valley Regional parking lot before they knew if a girls’ volleyball season would actually move forward this fall. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
Senior captain hitter Ava Boyles claimed the Shoreline Conference’s Most Valuable Player Award with 182 kills to her credit this season. (File photo by Kelley Fryer/The Courier | Buy This Photo)
The Valley Regional girls’ volleyball team put forth an outstanding season despite an array of challenges. The Warriors turned in a record of 8-1 on the season, but they were unable to compete in the Shoreline Conference Tournament due to a spike in positive COVID-19 tests at Valley Regional High School, despite earning the No. 2 seed in the bracket.
The Warriors were bolstered by the presence of four outstanding senior captains in hitter Ava Boyles, libero Emma Counter, setter Alena Crosby, and hitter Jamie Pullin. In her first year with the team, Coach Patrice Nelson thought that the support of those captains was integral not just to Valley’s success, but the success of the new-look coaching staff of Head Coach Christine Miller and Coach Nelson, as well.
“My feeling was that it was Christine and [my] first year together coaching, and we came into the season with already some fabulous players,” said Coach Nelson. “Knowing that we were going to have the four strong seniors, we decided to make them all captains because they all deserved it, especially going through COVID. They all were putting in their best effort and being role models for all the girls. They led the team and made our job a lot less stressful.”
One of the more frustrating aspects of this season for the Warriors was the uncertainty of whether the risk of playing volleyball could be mitigated enough to go forward alongside other fall sports. During the preseason, the Warriors were practicing in the Valley Regional parking lot without a volleyball, and the senior captains provided steady leadership for their squad. After that, the Warriors hit the ground running.
“It was especially tough during the conditioning weeks out there in the parking lot with not even being able to touch a ball. It took four weeks until we could do that,” Nelson said. “Once we got on the court and started actually playing volleyball, this team just really came together. We were very excited, because they were all really passionate and worked super hard. They made the most of every practice, and they didn’t ever want to go home.”
The captains weren’t just superior leaders; they were exceptional players, and they have the hardware to prove it. Boyles earned the Shoreline Conference’s Most Valuable Player Award, as well as All-Shoreline Conference First Team honors behind 182 kills, 40 aces, 98 digs, and 79 receptions on the year.
“Ava could have hit the ball all night long. She just couldn’t get enough. Varsity would practice first, then JV would practice, and freshmen after that, and she would stay through all of it. She would help out with the younger teams. It was a pleasure to have her,” said Nelson. “I think she just got better and better every week. She’s just a very determined player. She would just keep working on her hits and her placements.”
Also earning All-Shoreline Conference First Team recognition was Crosby. The setter tallied 208 assists, 32 digs, 10 kills, and 13 aces on the campaign.
“Alena made our lives so easy. She already was so coachable, but she had an innate ability to know what to do and where to be. She would just get there,” Nelson said. “Her athleticism is outstanding, and she has amazing hands. She has that touch.”
Counter earned All-Shoreline Conference Second Team honors with Valley, and she supplied 165 digs, 160 receptions, 88 assists, and 30 aces on the year.
“Emma just put her head down and worked really hard in that libero spot,” said Nelson. “She could anticipate the ball, and she was also a very good leader out on the court. She hustled and got to where she needed to. She was so quick.”
Pullin garnered All-Shoreline Conference Honorable Mention for her contributions this season. The senior hitter provided 77 kills, 45 digs, 20 aces, 22 receptions, and 7 blocks.
“Jamie was such a versatile, giving player. She was the brain for our team. She would sacrifice to make sure that we were putting the best team out there. She’s such a smart player,” Nelson said. “Of course, she was a hard worker, too. She would know that she could perfect something and keep working on it until she could get the technique.”
In addition to the captains, junior Salmi Miller had a strong campaign for the Warriors. Miller added 70 digs, 63 receptions, 33 kills, 10 aces, and 2 blocks.
“Salmi played all around. We started her off in the middle, but then she also really started coming on with an outside hit. We moved her to outside, and she thrived there,” Nelson said. “Her hits were getting better and better throughout the season. She’s a natural hitter, but she played in the back row, as well.”
Other solid contributors on the squad included juniors Emi Bisson, Chase Conrad, Madison Neviaser, Ella Pitman, Esha Shah, and Lindsey Valentino. With the senior captains graduating, the Warriors will be looking for a talented junior class to take the reins as leaders.
“Ella was our right-side hitter. She was a strong server for us. She didn’t have the hardest serve, but she was consistent. I saw a lot of growth in her this year. Madison was a pleasure to coach. She’s a strong hitter who played middle along with Jaime. I could see her playing outside, too,” said Nelson. “Emi played back row for us and was a consistent defender. We hope to see even some growth from her next year, too. Chase would do anything for the team. When she was on the bench, she was cheering everyone on. She filled in when Salmi was out and did a phenomenal job.”
Coach Nelson feels that Valley will continue to play a strong brand of volleyball after the departure of a talented senior class. Nelson is eager to see what 2021 brings for the Warriors.
“There were players that were on the varsity that will definitely be strong next year. There will be a good number of players vying for the libero position. We have a number of JV girls who can help fill the void that will be left by Alena at setter. We have a real strong group of sophomores coming up to fill in spots next year,” said Nelson. “I’m looking forward to next year with these girls. This year exceeded my expectations, getting back into coaching. As challenging as this season was, it was a great team and a great experience.”