You can’t teach experience. Fortunately for Newark volleyball coach Theresa Young, five of her six starters earned varsity letters last year, and four of them are seniors.
However, despite a wealth of experience, things didn’t get off to a great start for the veteran-laden squad back in early September. Newark lost its first two games of the year to Concord and Middletown, and it was at that critical juncture in a very young season when Young turned to her seniors.
“I told them ‘Let’s get to work,’” Young, in her third year as head coach, recalled.
And get to work they did, reeling off eight straight wins heading into the final two weeks of the season.
Guiding the team is co-captain Naomi Barrett, who Young calls “a true leader.” Cyniah Ruff fills the middle and right-side hitter positions, Victoria Ortiz is the libero, and Shannon Eberle is capable of playing whichever position needs to be filled.
“Cyniah has a dynamic personality and brings heart to the team,” Young said. “Ortiz brings a sense of focus, and Eberle can step into any position and bring the team up with her positive attitude.”
The lone underclassman with significant varsity experience is sophomore co-captain Mariana Catts.
“She is another strong leader who is a high-level player in all positions and has great court sense,” Young said.
It has been a combination of experience coupled with a new coaching philosophy that Young credits for the turnaround from where this team was a year ago when it finished with a 4-11 record.
“As a team, we have a new approach this year,” Young explained. “I learned from a Susquehanna University coach the phrase ‘move forward stronger’. From day one, the team stepped into preseason with a look-forward approach. We learn from every experience and support each other as we strive to continue to evolve to be a better and stronger team, from the players to the coaches to the managers.”
A strong group of juniors has stepped up and contributed to the team’s success. Kat von Duyke fills the middle blocker position, Ann Devlin has developed into a solid outside hitter with strong blocking skills, and Stacy Burroughs has become an effective setter in her first year of varsity experience, according to her coach.
“Stacy works hard every day to improve her skill,” Young said.
Mia Dixon and Taylor Davis have proved to be strong defensive players, and freshman Kylie Nicholson has shown “great court sense” in her first high school season, Young pointed out.
The new varsity players caught on quickly as to what is expected.
“We have had a saying the last three years which is the ‘big two’: attitude and effort, and we are seeing that mental and physical approach come to fruition,” Young said.
Newark sees itself in a strong position to make the postseason for the first time in years. While the move to Flight B certainly has helped, Young is a firm believer that it’s not the reason this group has played exceptionally well.
“The challenge is telling these girls to see that they can compete against experienced players,” Young explained. “Your mind and heart are powerful.”
While Newark has yet to clinch a playoff spot, Young likes her team’s chances.
“Our outlook is strong and we are likely to make the tournament,” she said. “We will celebrate each step of the way and hold off celebrating that we made it in until when it is set and the time is appropriate.”
“We are very proud of the team and how far they have come as young ladies and as athletes,” Young added. “And we are very proud of the young men that have dedicated their time to the program by starting a boys team and then that team coming out to work with and build our girls program. The student-athletes at this school have bonded to support each other across sports programs and the youth leaders have much to be proud of. We are family.”