MINFORD — It’s early … really early … but you’ve been warned that Minford’s volleyball program has all the tools necessary to be special this fall.
After losing three seniors to graduation last season, including their kill leader Ashley Blankenship, the Falcons knew they were going to have to rely on others to rise into leadership roles.
Tuesday evening, in the team’s season opener, multiple candidates threw their hat in the ring.
Behind a mix of Ally Coriell in the middle, Cassidy LeBrun on the outside, Livi Shonkwiler in the passing game and Maddie Slusher on the back line, Minford handed Eastern a quick three-set sweep to begin a new year — handing the Eagles losses of 25-10, 25-20 and 25-13.
“We’re still working some things out and we’re still building chemistry. But everybody has had a great attitude and everybody is willing to go in and play hard,” Minford coach Rachael Stapleton said. “We’re really happy with how tonight went.”
As they should be.
Throughout the match, the Falcons (1-0, 1-0 SOC II) were in total control.
Coriell and Shonkwiler helped build a 10-5 lead right out of the shoot, an advantage that grew to 14-7, 17-8, 22-10 and, eventually, the set’s final.
Eastern (1-1, 0-1 SOC II) battled back in the second and even held a 14-12 lead midway through. But the Falcons retook the lead at 15-14 and never looked back, ending the set on a 10-6 scoring run to take a 2-0 lead in the match.
In the third, Minford quickly put an exclamation point on its win. After building a 12-1 lead, the Falcons ran away with a 25-13 match-clinching victory.
At the net, Coriell and LeBrun were too much to for Eastern’s defense to handle.
At 6-foot-3, Coriell had her way all night long while LeBrun pelted the Eagles from the outside. On the defensive side of things, Slusher played the libero position perfectly, minimizing errors and making sure the team’s first pass was on target.
“Ally Coriell is a gift. It’s not very often where you get to coach girls that tall,” Stapleton said. “We want her to have that killer instinct and go after it. But we’ve also got Cassidy LeBrun hitting really well and Maddie Slusher, our libero, tries to control the floor and she’s been a great leader. I can’t say enough, really, about all the kids and the way they’re playing.”
Shonkwiler was also at the center of it all, passing out assists and getting the ball to her hitters in rhythm.
“Livi does anything I ask her to do,” Stapleton said. “She was out sick a lot this summer so she’s really just getting back into it. We need to get the ball to her better than we did tonight. But once she gets going and once we build that chemistry between setter and hitter, we’ll be just fine.”
The aforementioned quartet may lead the team in statistical categories this season but Tuesday also revealed glimpses of talent from under the radar names like Mckenna Higbee, Macy Puckett, Makenzie Watters and Nicole Collier.
All will have a role in the Falcons’ game plans this year.
“We’re deeper than we’ve been. We’ve got four or five girls who can play different positions and we haven’t really decided who or where everybody is going to play full-time,” Minford coach Rachael Stapleton said.
After the victory, Minford gets right back to it Wednesday evening, traveling to Ironton in non-conference action. Eastern attempts to bounce back at Northwest, Thursday.
“We’re a work in progress and we definitely have to find our intensity because, sometimes, we don’t have that,” Stapleton said. “But other than that, I’m happy with how we looked tonight.”
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