GREENFIELD — Travis Fuller made a choice.
Deciding not to play a match on opening day this past Saturday, Fuller, in his second year at the helm of the Greenfield-Central volleyball team, felt more preparation was necessary.
Not that the Cougars couldn’t have competed at a high level. Far from it, Fuller said, he just wanted a extra few days to put the team’s new pieces together.
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“We opted not to play the first day, and we decided to get more practice in,” Fuller said. “We have a pretty young team, so we felt we needed more time together, then to necessarily get out there quick and start playing.”
The decision paid off as the Cougars kicked off the 2017 season on Monday with a clean 3-0 sweep of Warren Central 25-8, 25-16, 25-15.
With the additional time to rev up, a pair of returning juniors came out firing as Haleigh Pribble and Morgan Grigsby, both outside hitters, recorded eight and nine kills, respectively.
The delay also gave junior setter Molly Broome more time to get back on track after an injury this past April slowed her down in the offseason.
Broome’s health and rhythm on the court is key for the Cougars this fall, who look to build from their 18-13 record in 2016 and Hancock County Tournament championship performance.
As a 6-foot-1 sophomore, Broome, a three-year varsity starter and AAU Academic All-American, recorded 860 assists, topping her 712 as a freshman. In the opener, Broome dished out 28 assists.
“Starting with your setter is important because that’s what everything runs through, she’s going to be in her third year at varsity. At a lot of schools someone might be starting at setter as a junior, and she’s already got two years under her belt,” Fuller said. “That helps when you’ve got that position where 95 percent of our touches go through.”
Stability is something Fuller is striving for as the sixth head coach of the program since 2008. After taking over the team in the spring of 2016, Fuller is starting to see his system take effect, from the ground up.
The 2017 varsity roster doesn’t have a single senior listed, an oddity and a welcomed sight, Fuller remarked, as the team builds for the future while calling upon a host of talented freshmen to fill some voids.
“We have five freshmen on varsity. Last year, we were young, and we’re even younger this year, but we’re more experienced,” Fuller said.
Of the freshmen five, four are projected to make an impact, particularly on the left side where 5-9 Ava Antic, 5-8 Makayla Price and 5-10 Brooke Herrall will see time.
“Both Makaya and Ava had very good prep seasons getting into it. They played at a pretty high open level for two years, so they’ll get into the mix,” Fuller said. “Brooke is a freshman that is a really good athlete. I think she’s going to surprise a lot of people.”
Fuller is looking for Pribble to breakout this season, finishing third in kills for the team in 2016 with 194 behind graduated senior standouts Emily Diehr and Laura Banton.
Diehr, who now is at Hanover, posted a team-best 339 kills in 2016 to earn All-Hoosier Heritage Conference honors, while Banton had 224 kills.
“Offensively, Emily Diehr wasn’t only one of the best in the conference, she was one of the most efficient attackers in the state,” Fuller said. “You have to replace her in efficiency and replace Laura Banton, who probably took 55 percent of our swings last year. If you add up their total attacks, we’re trying to replace 65 to 75 percent of the offense.”
Pribble, in addition to Grigsby (109 kills in 2016) will play a key role in making up those numbers. Fellow returner Mary Voigt, a junior at middle back, will be crucial on both sides of the attack.
“She’s seventh all-time for us right now in Greenfield history in blocks,” Fuller remarked on Voigt. “Obviously, she has to fill a pretty big offensive void with Emily Diehr leaving, but she’s done a great job.”
Junior Macy Francis returns as a defensive specialist and will team with junior Hannah Burkhart (319 digs in 2016).
“(Macy) is a pretty good softball player, which translates well over to volleyball. She’s a tough kid that will provide a lot of grit for us,” Fuller said. “We’re not going to carry a lot of defensive specialists on the varsity level because our five pin players are all six-rotation kids.”
Freshman Olivia Ellis will rotate at middle back, while freshman Ally Knecht will back up Broome at setter.
“We have to spread the ball around a little bit more, which I think in the long run is going to help us out quite a bit,” Fuller said. “Last year, we were kind of a two-trick pony. This year, we’ve got really four players and a lot of help on the bench, so we’re really deep on the left side. We’re going to be pretty deep this year and have a lot of options.”
The goal as the season continues is improvement, Fuller remarked, especially in the conference where the Cougars went 2-5 and tied for fifth with New Palestine and Pendleton Heights in 2016.
He’s seeing it unfold through the season’s first few days.
“I watched tape the other week and was impressed with how far we’ve come. You could see the difference a year makes, starting 365 days ahead of where you were last year,” Fuller said. “We’ve got kids that are system kids now, so there are a lot of different ways we can make it tough on people.”