MORRAL — No volleyball program in the county was hit harder by graduation than Ridgedale.
Leaving the Rockets behind were Raylynn Mullins, Caitlyn Thiel, Emily Mulvaine, Jordyn Nutter and Dani Mergy — the players who had a big hand in Ridgedale’s turnaround last year in winning a Northwest Central Conference Championship and a district berth.
Mullins and Nutter were first-team all-league selections, while Thiel was a second-teamer and Mulvaine Honorable mention.
So this year’s Squad is a different one.
Senior Grace Staton, a second-team NWCC pick, and junior Lauren Leslie, an Honorable mention selection in the league, are back, but instead of being secondary weapons at the net, they are now Ridgedale’s focal points.
“Everybody else is young. Now they have to play,” Ridgedale Coach Tyler Clark said.
Others have seen elevated roles in 2022 due to the changes in the roster. Senior Mya Brown moved from setter to libero, while junior Hannah Cook takes over the offense at setter. Junior Lilly Ruth has moved to the middle, but she’s out with an injury.
“It’s taken a little bit. They were role players last year, and now they’ve had to step into big roles and show the Younger ones the way. That’s always hard,” Clark added.
Sophomore middle hitter Brenda Scott and freshmen Richelle Gleespen, Hannah Murphy and Mylee Mullins have been added to the varsity mix and help at the net as well.
“People are playing different positions, not just different roles,” Clark said. “Even if you were a hitter, now you became a middle hitter. Really, they’ve adjusted well. The older girls have done a good job of welcoming them onto the team.”
Despite the changes it has endured, Ridgedale finds itself at 6-5 overall and 2-1 in the NWCC.
That’s an accomplishment in itself, but considering how thin the Ranks are, it’s even more so.
“We only have 12 in the entire program right now, and one is hurt and that’s why we’re struggling with JV and varsity (numbers),” Clark said of managing practices. “It’s hard to practice. I’ve had to keep my JV three, who only play JV, keep coming. We have to switch and do multiple things and (use) different combinations. I’ve got to have different serves. I’ ve got to have different hitters, but I have to play my starters together or they’re not meshing. We do all kinds of mixes in practice, and they do well with that. They don’t get upset and just go with it. It’s been fun.”
The Rockets finished second at their own Invitational recently and bounced back from a 3-1 loss to Delaware Christian earlier in the week to easily handle NWCC and county Rival Elgin 25-14, 25-17, 25-8 at home on Thursday.
At the midpoint of the season, Ridgedale is led by Staton’s 133 kills (3.9 per set), 36 blocks and 126 digs, while Leslie chips in with 79 kills (2.3 per set), 16 aces, 18 blocks and 179 digs. Cook has 212 assists, 10 aces and 98 digs, while Brown adds 15 aces and 162 digs. Scott and Mullins have combined for 29 blocks.
“We’re at midseason and all games count,” Clark said. “Every game is going to be a game where we have to play to the best of our ability. We’re not going to walk in and just beat anybody. We have to play.”
And the way the Younger players are coming along and the way the Veterans are getting comfortable with expanded roles, Clark is optimistic that the best of the Rockets in 2022 is yet to come.
“It’s huge that we come to practice and work hard, and it’s huge that we take breaks when we need them. As long as we have fun and get along, they play so much better,” Clark said.