14 players, 1 goal

In Winters Mill's coach Shelly Katzef's system everyone, including standout outside hitter Kelly Hoff, has to compete for a starting spot


October 15, 2006|By Bill Free | Bill Free,SUN REPORTER

Winters Mill junior outside hitter Kelly Hoff might be treated like a star on another volleyball team. She is 6 feet 1, averages 1.6 kills per game, is an outstanding server and rarely comes off the court.

But Hoff is considered just one of 14 players on Falcons coach Shelly Katzef's team, and like everybody else on the squad, she goes into practice believing she has to earn a starting position.

"There's never really a starting lineup," Hoff said. "We all have to fight every single practice to prove ourselves."

And nobody seems to be complaining about that philosophy.

"We all push each other and make each other better," Hoff said of her eighth-ranked team. "And make each play better than the last one. We have a variety of players because there's 14 players. Each one puts forth something for the team."

Hoff said she likes the total team concept, insisting that each player comes through with big plays during a match. "That's good," said Hoff, "because we don't have to rely on just one person. We have 13 other people that can score points."

When asked if all 14 players get into every match, Hoff said, "Of course, it's hard to do that. But every single player is always ready to play. It's pretty amazing to have such a complete team like this in high school, with everybody so good."

Hoff said the team is confident but never enters a match cocky because "you never know what to expect. You just have to go in there and no matter what the team is like, if they're good or bad, you have to face every single team with the same level of respect."

Reflecting on last season's team that went 11-4, Hoff said, "They started a tradition, and we're just trying to follow up on it."

Another player who has been a key contributor to the Falcons' success this season (5-2 start) is senior libero (defensive specialist) Sarah Byron. "I enjoy this position, although I don't get as much credit," said Byron, who leads the team in digs with 4.2 a game. "The back row doesn't get as much credit, but I know that I help out on each play and the team needs me."

Other key contributors are senior setter Jessica Wilmer; senior middle hitter Olivia Fajareo, who leads the team in kills (1.8 per game) and blocks (0.8 per game); freshman hitter-server Jessica Gieselman, who has played every minute and is the team's top server (91 percent on 137 attempts); junior back-row player Claire Bowersox; senior outside hitter Monica Zaleski; and sophomore middle hitter Kristin Corman.

Byron believes the 14-player team unity concept works because Katzef never focuses on one particular player in practice and tries to make everybody feel important. "She keeps us level-headed," Byron said.

Byron said Katzef "makes it clear" at the beginning of each practice that no one is guaranteed a starting position and that everyone is expected to work hard. The players who perform best in practice are the ones who are going to play in the matches, Byron said.

She also thinks harmony produces better results. "We haven't had any team drama and we all get along really well," Byron said. "Any team that can be friends off the court is going to work together better on the court, and we're going to win."

Katzef has watched this year's team develop into a surprising force, even though it lost five starters from last year. Katzef said this year's team is living a little off last year's reputation, but it is also developing its own identity.

"Our trademark is that we just have 14 kids who really wanted to be a part of the program and would do whatever it took to be part of the team," Katzef said. "We have 14 kids who are determined. They have a lot of heart and, sometimes that is what carries you."

That heart is reflected in the team's desire on defense.

"We're definitely a defense-first attitude," Katzef said. "We're a team that may not have that player everybody stands up for, but you're going to have kids that are going to finish every single play."

With the tougher part of the schedule approaching, Katzef said Winters Mill needs to limit the errors it has been making during key parts of matches. "It's not about how many errors you make but more about when you make them," she said. "So we just need to minimize errors at critical points."

The area in which Katzef thinks her players are getting it right on a consistent basis is in putting the team first.

"We've really gotten the kids to the point where it's `team' before `I.' That's just the way we practice. That's the way we play," Katzef said.


Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.