CHERRYVALE — Aimee Strickland took over a Cherryvale Chargers volleyball team midway through last fall’s season that was starved for continuity and leadership.
The Chargers finished the 2019 campaign with a 13-23 record, matching the previous year’s total. Prior to 2018, Cherryvale amassed 13 wins in the last three years combined.
“These girls have never truly been a team,” Strickland said. “It’s always been about ‘me’ and never about ‘us.’ This year, that’s what we’ve instilled. We win together and lose together. They’re starting to have that trust in each other.”
With a corps of returning talent that has seen success in other sports, Strickland wants that to bleed onto the volleyball court this year.
“They’ve put the work in over the summer and that hasn’t been done before,” Strickland said. “The seniors took a leadership course. We’re starting to lead by example and we have great leaders on our team. That’s leading to positive outlooks.”
Leading the pack for the Chargers is senior Mariah Monroy. After missing most of last season with a back injury, the 2019 Class 3A state triple jump champion is ready to start 2020 on the right note.
“She was injured last year and so we’re making sure she’s staying healthy,” Strickland said. “She’s going to be our big power hitter on the front row.”
Kobi Pearson, who was an All-Tri-Valley League selection setter last year, also returns to the lineup.
“She’s our quarterback of the volleyball team,” Strickland said. “She’s our setter and knows who’s on fire that day. That’s where the ball will go with her.”
Senior Joy Renfro will complement Monroy as a primary option along the front row.
“She’s a great outside hitter,” Strickland said. “She plays club in the offseason so she’s really put in the reps.”
As for talent on the rise, sophomore Kelsi Lantz will likely start at the varsity level this year and provide an immediate injection of athleticism across the floor.
“She’s going to be a big asset to our hitting,” Strickland said. “She’s a hustler and will do what she can to win. She’s not going to let a ball drop. That girl is just determined. She gives it her all every single day. She was great last year on JV, but I needed her to get that experience. She can hit from the back row, front row, pass, serve.”
While there is a slew of talent across Cherryvale’s roster, the Chargers will likely be without a key piece. Camdyn Forman, who suffered a knee injury during basketball season, has yet to be cleared to return and is not expected to play this fall.
“We still have a strong team,” Strickland said. “Obviously we’re hurting without her. But we have girls that can fill her shoes.”
Strickland feels her team, which also features an overhauled assistant coaching staff, has added the necessary pieces to live up to expectations.
“We’ve added power and height to our front row,” Strickland said. “All these girls are learning how to transition and being prepared to hit. We’ve added some back row passers so our front row can be ready to attack the ball. That’s going to be huge for us this year.”
Leadership has been a crucial aspect that Strickland has harped upon.
“I have to do the things I want them to do,” Strickland said. “Our coaching staff work great together and we share the goals. The first few weeks of practice here have been the best out of the years I’ve been involved with the program. They’re positive. We’re having fun. And we’re working hard. These girls needed routine and a schedule.”
Cherryvale is also being diligent in its adherence to KSHSAA and local health guidelines regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve talked to the girls about how important it is, when they’re outside the court, to be smart,” Strickland said. “Wear the masks, social distance. It’ll jeopardize our season if we don’t take those precautions. The girls have been great in dealing with the day-to-day guidelines. They have no problems and have persevered through all of this.”
As for what Strickland envisions for the fall? The baseline standard will be a winning season.
“The first goal is to have a season over .500,” Strickland said. “If we get a postseason, we want to get past the first round of sub-state. Do I think these girls are capable of going to state? Yes. But I want to set small goals first and go one game at a time. Each girl will have goals each match. But I do look for us to have a season that’s over .500.”