Story and photos by Chet Piotrowski Jr.
How does Mattoon head volleyball coach Kayla Quick plan to replace the production from the seniors that helped win the team’s first regional in four year?
“We’re replacing eight or nine seniors with eight or nine more,” Quick said. “These girls have their own set of strengths. They may not be strong in the same areas as we were last year, but this group of girls is scrappy. They make up for what people see. They’re small, tiny little group of girls but they have some fire to them.”
The Green Wave lost two front row players – Averie Smith who led the team in kills (201) second in aces (30) and blocks (40) and Bella Smith who led the team with aces (41) and assists (359) second in kills (144) and fourth in digs (115).
In the back row, Mattoon has lost Faith Niebrugge who led the team with digs (300) and receptions (363) and third in kills (123), Chloe Jobe second in digs (272) and receptions (327) and Cadance McDaniel, who was third in digs (136) and receptions (242).
“These girls click really well,” Quick said. “They work together as a team. They enjoy each other’s company. But they do really well in communicating, and while that’s something we can always get better at they talk a lot. They come up with plans. They problem solve. That’s a wonderful thing about this group.”
Some of Quick’s players saw varsity time last year. Senior Jess Evans finished last season with 5 aces, 39, kills and 50 digs.
“Jess is solid on the outside for us,” Quick said. “She is one of our key hitters that I’m looking for her to produce for us this year. She’s consistent and strong. I’m really excited about her.”
Nevaeh Laster is another senior with varsity experience. Laster had 5 aces, 46 kills, 6 blocks, and 42 digs while junior Ryan Smith posted 3 aces, 5 kills, 100 assists, and 43 digs last season.
“Both of my middles I’m excited about,” Quick said. “A senior in Sarah Rankin and Ashlynne Kuhn who is a sophomore. She’s new to the varsity level, but still strong. If we can get some confidence going in her she’s going to be an answer for us in the middle.”
The veterans have brought along the newcomers to the program just days into the season.
“They’ve already worked hard in picking each other up. Even in our practice gym, our pace is quicker than what some are used to.”
Quick has to reload the back row as well.
“Cadance, Faith, Chloe, and Sadie Bialeschki (1 ace, 101 receptions, 35 assists, 61 digs) – they all brought some really great defensive fire to our court,” Quick said. “They were diving for balls. They were great at leading and knowing where they needed to set up.”
The coach is fast to say they aren’t looking to replace those four but to get as great as them.
“That is something that we aren’t looking to replace but to get as great as,” Quick said. “We have two back row specialists in Gabi Ray who’s a senior, and Ella Laster who’s a junior. Both of them are great. They want to do well. They have no problem sacrificing their body for the ball. We’re working on reading a little bit right now, but I have no doubt that we’ll get to a point where they read well and set a hitter.”
Quick would like to see her Green Wave squad compete for a top three spot in the Apollo Conference this season after finishing fourth place last year at 6-6.
“Mahomet-Seymour and Taylorville are always strong competition for us – as well as Mt. Zion,” she said. “There’s really not a team in our conference that I would discount honestly. I would like to see us top three. That’s where I’d like to be. I think with this group of girls it’s very doable. Does that mean we’re not going to have to put in hard work to get there? With this skill that we have, we can mold this group into a well-oiled machine on and off the court and be just fine.”
Quick points out that while the team being scrappy is a strength, it’s also a weakness.
“They don’t like to let balls drop,” she said. “ It’s a group that not ready to lose. They don’t take it lightly. They push hard so that doesn’t happen. When I say that they’ll fight one another for the ball on the court just to make sure it doesn’t drop. That’s a strength and weakness of ours. We have to make sure what your lane is and what you’re responsible for so we’re not creeping into someone else’s zone.”
While the team is still finalizing goals, they’ve set some expectations to form a foundation.
“I want them to be a part of the results and expectations,” Quick said. “If I’m just a coach harping on this is what you’re going to do and why, it’s not as effective as if they think, ‘yeah let’s go ahead and do it.’ We’re doing what we’re calling ‘pick your poison’ this year.”
“They talked about they want to make sure we’re hustling at every point,” she said. “There shouldn’t be any walking. There shouldn’t be a time when a ball drops and you don’t say ‘mine’ or communicate. The ball better only drop because you’re working hard to get there and you couldn’t. They want their body language to stay positive as well as well as their verbal communication. One of my biggest pet peeves as a coach is to see eye rolls after a mistake. That’s something they’ve picked up on and it’s important for them too. All of those things are expectations they’ve set for themselves. If at any point during the season or practice I as a coach notice that they aren’t following through with their expectations, then they have chosen a consequence for that.”
Quick said it’s easy for them to ‘buy in’ because of the team’s success last year.
“Jess played varsity last year,” she said. “Lily sat in some time. Ryan, Sophia, and Nevaeh did varsity for me. The girls that were with me last year – they’re most definitely motivated to do well because of what they got to be a part of last year. But at the same time, the girls who are new to this program are just on fire to be a part of something like that.”
“They do well. They’re athletic. They enjoy the game. For me, that’s enough to set a foundation.”
2021-2022 Record: 20-13, 6-6 Apollo. Won first regional title in four years. Lost sectional semifinal to Waterloo, 2-0.
Key contributors graduated: Averie Smith, Bella Smith, Faith Niebrugge, Cadance McDaniel, Holly McReynolds, Chloe Jobe, Sadie Bialeschki, Grace Lange.
Key contributors to watch this season: Nevaeh Laster, Jess Evans, Lily Ghere, Ashlynne Kuhn. Laster returns from her junior season posting 46 kills, 6 blocks, 8 assists, and 42 digs. Evans had 39 kills, 94 receptions, and 50 digs last season.
Key contests to watch:
Mattoon opens the season again, facing Unity(32-4, 8-1 Illini Prairie) at Tolono on Aug. 25. The Rockets defeated the Green Wave 2-0 last season. Quick’s squad last season swept Charleston (8-26, 0-12), 2-0. Mattoon hosts the Trojans on Sept. 1 and travel to Charleston on Sept. 27.
The Green Wave travel to Apollo Conference co-champion Mahomet-Seymour (31-6, 11-0) on Sept. 6 at host the Bulldogs on Sept. 29. Last season, Mahomet-Seymour twice defeated the Green Wave, 2-0 and 2-1.
Mattoon will travel to the other Apollo Conference co-champion Taylorville (35-5, 11-1) on Sept. 15 and host the Tornadoes on Oct. 11.
Taylorville defeated Waterloo in the sectional championship 2-0, before bowing to Normal West 2-0, who eventually went to capture third at state.
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