You have to learn to crawl before you can walk.
It’s been evident over the past few seasons that the Waterford Our Lady of the Lakes volleyball program has moved on from the crawling phase and is clearly making its walk toward a state championship.
Head coach Stephanie Swearingen is in her fifth year as head coach and she led the Lakers to a district title in 2011 before claiming the program’s first regional championship in 2012.
Despite getting swept in the Class D quarterfinals last season, the Lakers got a taste of championship volleyball and are showing they want another shot at it in 2013.
“We have been focused on our goals. Straight off, the girls said they were getting back (to quarterfinals),” Swearingen said of the team’s goals this season. “They knew what it felt like to be out in such an important game. They have been focused and I have been impressed with the drive they have put into practice every day.”
Following a three-set sweep of Clarkston Everest Collegiate on Thursday, WOLL improved its record to 22-4-4 this season and the Lakers are currently ranked No. 2 in Class D.
There is plenty of buzz surrounding the program, which Swearingen is embracing, but she also knows the importance of focusing on the day-to-day goals.
“I think it is good to have pressure and be able to rise to the challenge under pressure. I do think pressure is good, but if you focus too much on the end goal and don’t focus on the task in front of you, it can be problematic,” Swearingen said of expectations. “I think our girls are handling the season goals very well with the day-to-day challenges.”
The Lakers didn’t come into the season with a guarantee that they would pick up where they left off in 2012. Despite returning a number of key hitters, the team did lose a few big pieces, including setter Haley Howell, who was an All-State selection in her senior year.
Stepping into that role has been senior Kali Bagley, who hasn’t missed a beat. Bagley has 590 assists thus far into the season and is averaging 8.7 assists per set. Along with her setting, Bagley has been strong in her serving. She has racked up 58 aces on the year, which is second on the team.
“She had just been dying for a chance to be out on the court and she has really taken the lead out there,” Swearingen said of Bagley. “She calls the plays and she has developed into an excellent server. She’s a great leader. She is very enthusiastic and is a great cheerleader for the team. She keeps everybody energetic.”
Bagley has the luxury of working with some experienced hitters for WOLL. The team has a number of powerful attackers at the net. Sophomore Courtney Wightman has a team-high 297 kills on the year while seniors Allison Samulon (184 kills) and Kristina Krupiak (89 kills) are also a handful to deal with.
“I feel like we have a great core group of hitters,” Swearingen said of her attackers. “Our two outsides are very strong. My middles are pulling the blocks and creating some seams for the outside. It’s a dynamic group of girls and it doesn’t happen very often, especially in Class D.”
One of the big question marks entering the 2013 season was the libero position. The Lakers lost starter Kelly Meehan to graduation in 2012 and decided to hand the role to freshman Lindsay Wightman. She has answered the challenge nicely, picking up 192 digs and 33 aces on the season.
Wightman recently suffered a concussion that has forced her to the sidelines, but senior Angela Ludlow filled in without missing a beat, helping in the win over Everest Collegiate with four digs. Ludlow’s performance shows that the Lakers have good depth in all positions.
“Our starting libero is out with a concussion and our senior, Angela, stepped right up and was ready to go,” Swearingen said. “It’s a great thing when you have a player go down and you are able to overcome that. We had great ball control with Angela out there.”
With the postseason not far off, the Lakers are looking to sharpen their game in any way they can. As is, WOLL is a strong contender in Class D, but to win a state championship, the Lakers know they need to still get better.
“I think that we can always communicate better. I think that our defense is strong, but it can always be better. We have raised the bar from last year, because we have six seniors. There is a lot of experience and a lot of leadership on the court for us. I think everything can get stronger,” Swearingen said. “We are working on seeing the blockers. We are working on the middles pulling the blockers and being really dynamic so the hitters have holes to hit through. We are really going into strategy more and focusing on the finer details.”