Losing nine seniors is hard to replace for any team.
But good chemistry can make up for a great deal.
The Mattoon Green Wave, coming off of a 20-win season that netted a Regional Championship.
All-Apollo hitter Averie Smith was among nine players that graduated from last year’s team that won 20 games and captured the regional championships. Smith led the Green Wave with 201 kills, while Bella Smith and Faith Niebrugge surpassed 100 kills.
Neveah Laster and Jessica Evans return as the top hitters with 46 and 39 kills, respectively. Evans returns with the most sets played but new players will need to step in for another chance at a regional title.
“Almost our entire team last year was seniors, so I think a lot of people are going to have to step up and be willing to fill those big shoes that we had last year,” said Evans. “Especially the junior girls that were on JV and haven’t played at a varsity level before. I just think it’s going to be a big learning curve for a lot of people and it’s going to take a lot of adjusting.”
While the new players will need time to mesh, Evans said that the current group of seniors have been together since seventh grade.
“We have pretty good chemistry together,” said Evans. “We have a lot of fun on and off the court together. There aren’t really any younger girls that are going to be on varsity, so we’re probably going to have to pull up a couple of juniors but other than that varsity is mostly seniors.”
Along with Laster and Evans, Ryan Smith, Lily Ghere, and Elizabeth Enlow had some varsity experience last season. There were no sophomores or freshmen that played varsity last year.
With Evans slated as one of the senior leaders, she said that she is hopeful to focus on having more fun than putting pressure on herself.
“For this season, I’m just trying to focus on playing the way I know how to play and having fun and not stressing out too much about stuff,” said Evans. “Last year was kind of rough for me because I would always get in my head a lot and then get frustrated when I wouldn’t perform the way I knew I could. This year, I’m just going to focus on having fun for my senior year.
Evans played 58 sets last year with 39 kills, 58 digs, and 94 serve receptions for 20-13 MHS, which also went 6-6 in the Apollo Conference.
“We really want to center on staying focused and staying positive with each other,” said Evans. “We’re pretty small size wise so we really have to be smart with our play and be good about reading the offense and defense on the other side of the net. I think we can really come together as a team and pull out some pretty good wins in conference and just have fun together for our last season as a team.”