By Jan Clark
High hopes will follow the Richmond girls volleyball team into a new season soon under the direction of second year head coach Russ Uhte. New assistants this year are Alexis Cox (JV) and Grace Townsend. The season opener is Monday, Aug. 17 at home vs. Pendleton Heights in the newly remodeled Tiernan Center.
The Red Devils, 14-15 last season, hope to take a major step forward with a roster dominated by seven juniors, three of them starting their third year on the varsity.
Team members include seniors Alison Juday and Amanda Wolfe; juniors Ashley Clark, Laurelai DePew, Haley Haskett, Jakaia Lotz, Kennedy McKee, Lauren Uhte and Adrianne Weber; and sophomores Taliyah Brewer, Kara Mullins and Dafne Ruiz.
This is a team that also excels in academics. Six of the girls – Clark, DePew, Haskett, Juday, Lotz and Weber – are in the National Honor Society. Plus, numerous girls were on the honor roll last year, posting a composite grade point average of 3.4.
With still two years ahead of them, the triumvirate of Clark, DePew and Lauren Uhte are set for their third year on the varsity. DePew, Uhte and Juday were all-conference last year. DePew led the Red Devils in kills while Uhte was fourth in the North Central Conference in service aces. McKee was selected most improved.
Following last year’s sectional setback to state champion New Castle, coach Uhte commented that his returnees can no longer be considered a young or inexperienced team.
“We’ve got a lot of leadership coming back this year, certainly those three juniors,” he said of DePew, Clark and his daughter. “Ashley, Laurelai and Lauren have been playing together even before they made the high school team. They have really great chemistry and they know how to connect and count on each other on and off the court. I look for the three of them to do a lot of good this year.”
The sky’s the limit when it comes to goals.
“Being better than a .500 team is certainly going to be the goal for the season,” coach Uhte said. “With the talent we’ve got in the returning varsity players, these girls have looked really good in preseason. I’m excited to see what they will bring to the games this year. One of the things we’re going to do early in the season is to look down at our schedule and start pinpointing games that are important to us and want to take a victory.”
Idle time during the pandemic hasn’t seemed to slow the Red Devils down.
“Some of these girls probably needed a break because some are multi sport athletes,” Uhte said. “But when they returned to the court you couldn’t tell it. They were not missing a beat. Most of them were better than when I saw them last. And that’s what it’s all about.”
The Richmond coach said his team’s serving is excellent as is front row play where the points are generated.
“We’re going to be really strong (on the front row) this year,” Uhte said.
“We’re going to move Laurelai back to the middle where she’s more comfortable at and where she makes the most difference in the games. Ashley has worked very hard this offseason to improve her swing speed and shot location. JaKaia came back in the preseason looking like a totally different player (in the middle). Haley has shown pure dominance on the right side and we’ve also got Kennedy, Adrianne and Taliyah – they’re all front row talent.
“We’ve also got several girls who can play all six positions and that’s a huge benefit to a coach.”
The bottom line to being an improved program?
“It’s going to be all about culture this year,” the coach said. “If we can really build up our inter-team dynamics, we’ve got the skill. We’ve got every bit of skill you need. We have the positions filled that need to be filled. It’s just getting the girls to trust each other. We want a climate where we can support each other and be happy with each other’s successes.”
Can this team take it to the next level this year?
“Oh, for sure,” DePew said. “We have the outside hitters, the middles and plenty of back row passers. Our best aspect this year is our front row. That’s where we dominate the most. We have what it takes to go a long way.”
Juday, as one of two seniors on the club, knows what’s expected of her. “Because I’m a senior I know I have to be a leader,” she said. “I think we can be very good this year and can go a long way if we come together. I’m not worried at all.”
Being off so long for the pandemic doesn’t seem to worry Clark.
“I think we can definitely pick up where we left off,” she said. “We have a lot of the rust off. This roster is good because I have a lot of my junior class with me, we have two very strong seniors and the sophomores we have on the team have a bright future.”
Lauren Uhte, the team’s setter, takes a slightly different approach.
“I think that the bond excites me the most,” she said. “We have a bond that I’ve never seen before in my career.”
Knowing each front row player well is crucial to a setter. “I know the length of everyone’s arms and they tell me how they like it (their sets),” she explained.
“All of our skill levels are very high,” she said of herself, DePew and Clark. “It’s easy to play alongside other players who match my energy and my skill level. The more we play together, the more it just gets easier as it goes along.”
Coach Cox is new to the program but she knew many of the players coming in, having coached club ball and helping in the RHS weight room.
“I see a lot of really, really good talent in the program,” she said. “I can see growth coming from the underclassmen and I can’t wait to see how the season goes. We have quite a young team on the JV so it’s going to be a learning experience for all of us. We’ll start with the basics and go up from there.”Members of the JV team include sophomores Kea Cooper, Courtney Irvine, Sasha Matthews and Kirsten Urich and freshmen Alyssa Amyx, Abby Hatch, Emily Moran, Abby Necessary, Natalee Piatt, Ariana Santos, R’Javia Segrest and Maddie Simpson.