By JOSH SIGLER
---- — When Jessica Metcalf arrived as Maconaquah’s varsity volleyball coach three seasons ago, she saw a Braves program with an exciting amount of untapped potential.
Maconaquah had volleyball success in recent memory with six Mid-Indiana Conference titles between 2000 and 2006 and sectional titles in ‘04 and ’06. But the years between that and Metcalf’s arrival left something to be desired.She observed a talent pool that was eager to improve and even hungrier to win. She’s used that desire to her advantage, and in just three seasons, has the Braves cemented as one of the area’s top programs.“We have a morale at Maconaquah,” Metcalf said. “Girls want to play because we win. We definitely want to continue building that morale and continue winning. Our young crowd is thrilled to come watch our games, and our [varsity and JV] girls feed off that. There’s a lot of excitement. [Junior varsity] coach [Katy] Parks and I see a lot of great things going on at the younger levels. We have a lot of volunteer coaches who come in and help. The girls just want to play.”The Braves enjoyed immediate success in Metcalf’s first season, going 23-9 and claiming an outright MIC championship before falling in a sectional final. The squad followed with a 19-14 campaign last season where it was able to navigate itself to a second straight MIC crown.
The Braves kept their hopes of a third straight outright MIC title alive Thursday night after fending off a late-charging Northwestern squad on the road in four sets, 25-12, 25-12, 23-25, 25-22.The Braves improved to 2-0 in league play.
Maconaquah was 10-3 overall at the close of last week. The Braves went 3-1 in the Rossville Invitational on Saturday, finishing as runners-up.
The Braves’ JV squad is also enjoying a strong season, going into last weekend with an undefeated record.
Quickly gaining the immediate enthusiasm of the girls at the high school level, one of Metcalf’s other priorities when she arrived was to create the opportunity for younger girls to get their start in the sport. With some of the top prep volleyball in the country being played in Indiana, particularly in the Muncie area, Metcalf knew that, in order to compete at the level she wanted, getting kids involved in the game as early as possible would be imperative. So far, it seems to be paying dividends.
“We continue to reload,” she said. “We have second graders playing travel ball throughout the winter. That’s the difference. Our girls — there’re only two or three girls on the varsity who aren’t playing travel ball in the offseason. That’s key. The thing is these kids want to be good. And you can’t be good if you don’t practice. … Our girls are excited about playing volleyball. They want to come out on the court and put the time in. Coach [Dave] Hausner is a volunteer who stays after with the girls a couple nights a week to hit. And, that’s after they’ve put in a two-and-a-half hour practice. We just have to keep that going.”
Maconaquah’s varsity squad has enjoyed a solid start to the 2013 season, winning 10 of its first 13 matches with a deep, diverse roster of players who feature multi-faceted skillsets. The Braves feature a lineup overflowing with veteran experience, as well, including 10 upperclassmen — five seniors and five juniors.
“We have high hopes for this year,” Metcalf said. “What’s nice is we play as a team. A lot of squads have a dominating player. We don’t necessarily have one dominating player. We have many dominating players. We are very aggressive in the front row and back row. To say this is a very good team — yes, our expectations are very high.”
Against Northwestern last week, Maconaquah cruised through the match’s first two sets, but was unable regain that form down the stretch, giving the Purple Tigers a chance to get back in the match.
“I told the girls I was very impressed with their play in the first and second sets,” Metcalf said. “That third set — I was very disappointed. Point for point — every time they made a mistake, we made a mistake. And, I told them ‘As the season goes on, you can’t point-for-point a team like that.’ We really have to be more alert about where we are on the court, what we’re doing and work on minimizing our mistakes. We have to capitalize on the mistakes our opponents are making.”
Michaela Walters finished with eight kills, 22 digs and nine service points for the Braves. Ally Exmeyer added 12 kills and eight points. Jalyn Windsor added 10 kills. Madison Turner finished with 28 digs and 18 points. Emily Wilson led the defense with 40 digs, and Lynnsie Arion dished 30 assists.
Maconaquah followed that up with a 3-1 showing in the Rossville Invitational. The Braves opened the day with a 25-18, 25-16 win over Seeger and followed with a 25-12, 25-18 win over Cass. The Braves then topped Rossville 26-25, 25-22 before falling to Mississinewa in the championship round, 26-24, 25-17.Wilson had 69 digs on the day for Maconaquah. Arion dished out 44 assists. Turner added 47 digs. Windsor finished with 20 kills. Walters added 15 kills and 22 digs and Exmeyer added 14 kills.
“We couldn’t find our groove in the second set of the championship match,” Metcalf said. “We came out playing very flat. I’m not sure if it was the sitting for two games or what the problem was, but nothing seemed to work for us. Our passing wasn’t as accurate as it was earlier in the day, so that took away from being able to run an offense. Jalyn only had one kill in the last match, and that shows that things weren’t clicking.”
Metcalf is also quick to point out the importance of the coaching staff balancing immediate criticism during practices and after matches with praise and rewards for effort and dedication.
“I think staying positive with the girls has been huge,” she said. “And that’s not to say we have our down moments, because we do. I tell the girls ‘If you’re giving me 100 percent I’m not going to be disappointed.’ We can’t be a going-through-the-motions team.”