The Comeback Cats rallied for the first volleyball state championship in school history last season and now East Hardy sets out on a new journey navigating the changing landscape to Charleston.
“We are in a new ocean this year with a different team,” East Hardy coach Marsha Hahn remarked.
The Lady Cougars have been to the state tournament ten times in the past 14 seasons and finally reached the pinnacle, but the senior-laden squad is back training everyday to pass, set and kill to success.
The focus hasn’t been on winning another state title, but rather working hard and staying focused on each practice and match.
“They haven’t mentioned it, they have been in the gym for three weeks now and they don’t talk about it. They don’t have that attitude of entitlement and that’s probably what I like most about them. They are humble, at least in front of me. In this gym, they know there’s always room for improvement. We celebrate when it is time to celebrate and work when it is time to work,” Coach Hahn commented.
[private] “[Working together] That’s what we try to tell them even though they lost two of their playmakers, their competition and schedule didn’t get any easier. This is going to be the year that determines how much heart they have, not how much experience or how smart they are. Experience helps, but volleyball swings like a pendulum. It can change so quickly, it doesn’t matter. You either have the ability to dig deep and fight back or you roll over. Last year, Shannon [Hahn] kept them from rolling over. This year they don’t have a leader like Shannon. They’ve already said that is the one thing that they are missing. Captains will rotate, they all deserve it.”
There is no i in team, so together everyone achieves much.
Marsha Hahn has been on the sidelines for more than a decade with the Lady Cougars and enters her seventh season as the head coach with a proven formula of success over the years coming to fruition with the title in 2016.
One of her former players, Ashley Dove, will be serving as her assistant coach and JV coach along with husband Chris Hahn.
Having someone familiar with the system creates better progress for a smoother transition.
East Hardy returns to the court with seven experienced seniors preparing to make waves again this year, but the task will be challenging as their leading hitter and first team all-state selection senior Maxine Cassell moved to Florida and first team all-state setter Shannon Hahn graduated and is now playing at Glenville State College.
Two talented senior outside hitters/middle blockers for the Lady Cougars, Abigail Wilson and Brooke Miller, leaping on the floor return from the state tournament with all-state honorable mention honors and good delivery.
Wilson and Miller have tremendous jumping ability and great accuracy smashing the ball for kills, plus team up well for blocking opponent’s volleys.
In fact, during the season opener victory over Broadway, Wilson made 15 kills and Miller recorded 17.
Seniors Julia Hahn and Lexi Strawderman will be stepping into the roles of the setter, making sure each hitter has the ball placed in the ideal spot for attacking.
Hahn and Strawderman have been great defensive players and their passing skills will create efficient transitions on the attack.
Julia Hahn is familiar with the setter position and will do her part in filling the shoes of her sister Shannon, but her serving accuracy made a difference last season and carried over to this year with five aces in the opening game.
Emma Baker, Cara Hinkle and Kenna Wicks are the remaining seniors harnessing their skills to guide the team this year in various roles on the floor.
Baker was a good defensive player last season and has stepped up with solid play at the net.
Against Broadway, Baker showed her defensive skill with 16 digs saving a lot of points during the three-set win (29-27, 25-17, 25-16).
“The seniors are much more confident in their ability. Although sometimes it’s a downfall, because they don’t work as hard as they probably should. They are a very tight-knit group when it comes to athletics. They are always pushing each other which is nice because as a coach you don’t have to do it all the time, can sort of just self-regulate. They have been pretty good role models for the underclassmen,
” Coach Hahn stated.
Joining the seniors on the varsity team will be junior Jessica Smith, a talented defensive specialist.
There might be more players rotated from the junior varsity squad depending on their progress.
The JV roster includes juniors Molly Yates and Hannah Fogel, sophomores Emily Yates, Jaden Fleshman, Rebecca Whetzel and freshmen Sierra Miller, Perry Whetzel, Emily Moyers, Erin Riggle, Ivy Mongold and Tera Jones.
The road ahead will be as tough as usual with a strong schedule, but East Hardy has the knowledge and experience to move in the right direction.
The Lady Cougars will be once again attending the Fort Hill Tournament in Maryland and the Pumpkin Smash in Hedgesville.
“All referees call hands differently and subs differently, so I like for kids to see referees from all different regions. That’s why we travel to tournaments,” Coach Hahn noted.
East Hardy started the season against Broadway, Va. and concludes the season against Petersburg and Tygarts Valley.
East Hardy will play five Class AA opponents this year: Petersburg, Keyser, Philip Barbour, Frankfort and Robert C. Byrd.
The Lady Cougars visit Moorefield on September 12 and host the Yellow Jackettes on October 12.
“Most of the kids are seniors, so there aren’t very many people in this gym that can a) compete with them or b) have the ability to take their place so I’m just going to leave them in there. I still have to coach them like they are freshmen sometimes.
Everybody is playing everything this year. I mean, my setters are setters, but beyond that everybody plays everything. Lexi Strawderman and Julia Hahn are my setters. Timing isn’t important for a setter, timing is important for a hitter,” Coach Hahn said.
The defending state champion senior starters shared their insight on the season and team pride.
“We aren’t going to walk in with our heads filled that we were the state champions. We are going to work hard to get back there. We’re not going to automatically take it for granted. It still to this day doesn’t feel real to us to be a part of it. Honestly, I think we can come together and win again this year. Our goals are to work together and get better.” East Hardy senior Abigail Wilson
“Some of my goals are to work harder than we ever have before. We are going to have to work together, because that is what it will take to get back to where we were last year. We are all seniors, so we don’t have one main leader. We are all going to have to combine our forces and become one. I’m extremely proud to be a part of this team. It’s amazing to me having my aunt as the coach and to win a state championship with her is pretty great. We are all expected to someday win again and somebody is going to have to meet that goal.” East Hardy senior Julia Hahn stated.
“I hope to be back at the state tournament again this year, but it isn’t going to be as easy as it was last year. We had a lot more to work with last year. I think we are fully capable of doing it. Everyone looks at us because of last year, so it’s different this year. It means a lot to be the state champion. This doesn’t mean we can give up, we still need to work hard everyday. We still have a lot of things to work on, but I truly feel we can get there.” East Hardy senior Emma Baker noted.
“[Seniors] We’re kind of expected to know what we are doing all the time. There are a couple seniors who didn’t get to see the floor as much last year as the rest of us, so they are still trying to mold in with us. We were used to our starting six last year and that was it, no one else came in unless we really messed up. Now we are going to be having some front row and some back row. We are going to have to be leaders, because nobody else is going to be doing it. [Goals] It’s always expected for us to win it all, but I don’t think we are the same people as we were last year.
Last year we stepped on the court knowing we would hit the ball as hard as we can and block, but this year it’s more on me and Abby killing the ball. Hopefully we win as much as we did last year, but it’s going to have to be a different style. [Pride] We have done something no other team here has done. We won the second state championship in school history. The last one was in baseball and my dad was in high school then. A lot of pride, it feels good to be able to say we won a state championship last year. We’re from East Hardy and you know where it is now. [Defending champ] It means everything. I love it. I love everyone bringing up the state championship. No matter what, everyone brings it back to that.
There’s something I found that I can include when I talk about something interesting about myself, not everyone can say they’ve won a state championship. That is going to be in my speech for my college class tomorrow.” East Hardy senior Brooke Miller commented.
“[Goals] Definitely one of my goals is to try and get back to the state championship game. There’s no doubt in my mind we can’t do it, it’s just a matter of heart and proving by filling the spots we lost from last year. [Pride] There’s no better team. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. I love this team. I wouldn’t trade the experience, the coach, I wouldn’t change any of it. [Seniors] It helps, because we’ve grown up together even when we were little starting out playing basketball, volleyball or softball. We grew up playing together, so we’ve been through it all and we know how each other works. It’s just a matter of communicating and playing together the way we know how to play. [Academic balance] It’s tough with me, I’m taking five different college courses this year. I know it’s going to be tough, but when I have a study hall or any free time I use it wisely. Any time I have, I try to use it wisely. My school work is my top priority. If we are all together, we try to help each other out. [Defending state champ] It’s amazing, but there’s a lot of pressure.” East Hardy senior Lexi Strawderman remarked.
The Lady Cougars know what it takes to win the state championship and the journey down the path to Charleston begins in the gym.
Getting to know the East Hardy Volleyball team:
Favorite Teachers: 1) Mr. Hodges, 2) Mr. Wolfe, 3) Mr. Thompson
Favorite Books: 1) Harry Potter series, 2) The Book Thief
Favorite Quote: If you knew you couldn’t play tomorrow, how hard would you play today?
Favorite Cereal: 1) Lucky Charms, 2) Fruity Pebbles, 3) Special K