September 11, 2012 9:13:01 AM
Liz Fields and Liz Byrne aren't allowing the Heritage Academy volleyball team to use inexperience as an excuse.
Even though the co-head coaches are leading a program that is midway through its second season, the former college players are staying on the Lady Patriots and working on different skills and situations every day in practice.
Neither coach knows when the training will help the program get to the ultimate destination, but the consensus is that things are moving forward.
Heritage Academy gave another indication that is the case Monday night with a 3-0 victory against Columbus High School at the Mississippi University for Women's Stark Recreation Center.
"We can go undefeated the whole season, but there is always something we can learn and get better at," Fields said. "We have tried to up the ante every week at practice. We want to make it a little tougher, or throw running in if they aren't doing something."
Said Byrne, "Discipline. We are really trying to teach them self-discipline on the court on their own. They are getting there. Now, if they make a mistake, I think they realize even before we tell them, particularly with getting to base on defense, if they're not there and they look at us and we make eye contact. They know."
Like many sports, Fields and Byrne said they feel sometimes the players try to ignore the glare or the looks from the sidelines. Sophomore Harli Sesser and junior Anna Kilarski said most of the time they know they have done something wrong before the coaches can stare at them or try to get their attention.
"We know better," Sesser said. "It takes time and experience, and what they are telling us they have been telling us."
Sesser and Kilarski said getting younger players involved in the program is the next step in the evolution of the program. With eight players on the varsity roster, including seniors Alex Kloor and Elise Lingle, and six players on the junior varsity roster, the numbers aren't overwhelming. But with Fields, who played volleyball at the University of Alabama, and Byrne, who played at San Jose State, the program has coaches with strong backgrounds in the sport. Fields also has ties to former Mississippi State University volleyball coach Tina Seals and the Mississippi Juniors club volleyball program.
"We have to start building a program (with the younger player) and get them interested and have them see how much fun it is about and how much fun it is with the team and with the coaches," Sesser said. "You bring them in and show them the fun and the family we have and teach them the basics. After that, you build off that."
Fields and Byrne hope the program continues to build on the strides it has made in a little more than a year. They said the players have grown more confident and have adapted to different situations in practice. One of the next steps is to get them to play the sport more during the year and at higher levels so they are exposed to more competition.
Kilarski doesn't think it will be difficult to get younger players interested in the sport, but she feels it will be a challenge to teach inexperienced players the intricacies of the sport.
Sesser agrees with Kilarski in that the team has made significant improvement. She also knows there is so much more the team has to learn.
"If you look back two years ago, you see a huge difference," Sesser said. "If you look back two days ago, you see a difference. Every time we step on the court every person gets better, and the team gets better."
Sesser and Kilarski said the coaches have been stressing defense and the importance of getting low to keep balls alive. The training showed Monday as the Lady Patriots (7-3) scrambled to keep numerous balls alive. The passing wasn't perfect, but keeping the ball in play often is half the battle because your opponent then has to execute to continue the rally.
"It helps so much because you have to get a pass to set it up," Sesser said. "You have to have defense because defense is what is going to win it for you."
Passing also will be an essential ingredient to helping Heritage Academy improve. The closer the Lady Patriots can get their passes closer to the net, the better hitter like Sesser, Kilarski, and Mary Douglass Kerby will be able to swing confidently and know they can put the ball down.
Heritage Academy used a lot of two-armed bump passes to keep its offense going Monday night. The next step will be to get all of the players more comfortable handling the ball so they can connect with the setter and the team can stay in system.
"If you can pass, you will do good," Fields said. "You have to be able to serve and pass. The rest you work on from there. I think they're pretty decent passers. If the other team is serving, I tell them try not to let them get no more than three runs in a row. Get a pass, get a get a set, get a kill. Side out immediately so we don't get ourselves in a hole."
That focus has been another step in the progression Fields and Byrne hope elevates the program and helps some of their players realize their goal of moving on to play volleyball in college.
"The last three weeks in practice, it has gotten tougher and we have shown them new things," Fields said. "Each week there is a new element we can add because there are so many elements to volleyball -- blocking, hitting, defense, offense, serving, passing. They are getting there. From here, experience will do them the greatest. I am excited."
Adam Minichino is the former Sports Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.
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