A new coach and a young lineup has the Cuyahoga Heights volleyball team focused on developing a winning culture.
Heights returns just three starters for new head coach Kelsey Mason, who is taking an optimistic approach to the 2021 season.
“We have strong potential,” Mason said. “We’re on the young side so I’m looking at my seniors to be leaders and show the younger players the ropes. We are carrying nine players on varsity so each player is going to have to contribute towards our success.”
Last fall, Heights finished 8-11 overall and advanced to the second round of the playoffs.
Graduation left holes at setter, libero and defensive specialist, but Mason sees the holes in the lineup as an opportunity for her players to reshape the program.
“This is allowing us to give some other girls in the program a chance to step up and become developed in new positions,” she said. “One of our main goals is defining what our culture is this season. The girls have worked to hold each other accountable and work hard in everything they do. The girls have to understand that teammates support each other throughout the highs and lows of a season and they will need to lean on each other to help make our season as successful as possible. We have a very difficult conference and our success will be measured by controlling what we can on our side of the court and playing the volleyball we are capable of playing. I want the girls to have fun and grow as volleyball players and people this season.”
Throughout the preseason, the Heights players have shown up each day with that team-first mentality and Mason is confident that can lead to success this season.
“Our team’s strengths are definitely our attitudes,” she said. “The girls come ready to work hard day in and day out. They have a great ability to pick each other up and stay positive regardless of what is going on. We know we are going to play teams who are bigger and stronger than us, so the goal is to just have a ‘next point mentality and not get in any mental lows throughout the match.”
Seniors Lexi Baciak, Zakiya Baker, Savannah Kapis, and Mia Spicer will play key roles on and off the court this season.
Baciak is a libero, Baker and Spicer are middle hitters, and Kapis is an outside hitter.
“Lexi has become a natural leader throughout the summer,” Mason said. “(Baker) allows us to get momentum shifts with her blocks straight down to the floor. Savannah jumps out of the gym and when she connects with the ball she is a force to fear. Mia is a leader on and off the court and always is looking out for her teammates to make everyone as successful as possible.”
Sophomores Julia Jaenke, a setter/right side, and Julia Bardzilauskas, a right side/setter, and freshman defensive specialist Arushi Shinde round out the Heights projected lineup.
“(Jaenke) is a natural athlete. She works hard and wants to be successful in everything she does,” Mason said. “(Bardzilauskas) is the spark plug of our team, always providing amazing energy on and off the court. Arushi is a hard worker who constantly does what she’s asked to the best of her ability.”
Sophomore defensive specialist Riley Casey and freshman outside hitter Paige Henley will provide Heights with depth.
“Paige is just a freshman but already contributing so much to our team. She is going to be so fun to watch develop over the next four years,” Mason said. “This is Riley’s first year on varsity and she is stepping up to the challenge. She’s on the quiet side, but her playing speaks for itself.”
Click here to watch the Cuyahoga Heights segment from CVC Volleyball Media Day.