When the subject of chemistry comes up, it is usually thought of as the branch of science dealing with the substances of which all matter is composed and is a tough and demanding classroom subject.
But chemistry is also defined as the emotional cohesion between a group of athletes looking to grow and interact as a unit and gain a competitive edge on the opposition.
Cleveland volleyball coach Patricia Flowers is hoping the Lady Raiders are finding that cohesion and advantage for the upcoming campaign after a full offseason of club volleyball. Flowers feels the continuous training and competition will work to help the team grow and leaders emerge as the season progresses.
“The preseason tells a lot about their chemistry,” said Flowers. “It has been really fun. They are stepping up as leaders without being told. It comes down to simple things like putting the nets up and getting started stretching before practice without having to be told. It is just a completely different group.
“The camps help us so we can, when our regular season practices begin, get right into our team stuff. We don’t have to spend as much time breaking skills down. We still have skill specific practices. Last week Danny (Millsaps), my assistant coach, kept the setters for an extra 30 minutes and we will do the same again. It gets them motivated. It gets their brain into volleyball. It also gets us moving toward our end goal.”
Flowers will lead her group into battle with only one senior in 2012. She is counting on starter and right-side setter/hitter Jessica Murray to play a large leadership role.
“This is the smallest senior class I’ve ever had as a coach. She (Murray) is a great leader. She leads by example. She is not very loud, but when she talks, people listen,” Flowers said of her highest-ranking athlete.
She is also looking for five juniors — Marrisa Langford, Qeturah Abdullah-Muhammad, Cassidy Hale, Eva Wilhelm and Mikayla “K.K.” Clements — to step up and take charge on a regular basis.
“I think that our juniors obviously will have to step up. We have a strong junior group. Actually, we have a lot of depth this year. We are counting on them pretty heavily. “We have a couple of freshmen that we are moving up (Allison Botts and Kelly Geren) who also are potential varsity players.
The starting group for the Lady Raiders have worked to gain needed skill and practical knowledge with countless club volleyball games. Flowers said the more times they take to the court the better they will play at crunch time.
“It helps when you have a program where the girls play volleyball during their offseason. Our entire starting lineup plays select volleyball. That doesn’t hurt you at all, it only helps. They have a lot of experience,” she said.
The solitary flaw, if there is one in the Cleveland armor, is seemingly the roster’s lack of height. But, when the practice group reaches a full complement, Flowers said it should be no problem and the Lady Raiders should be able to compete with anyone on the rugged District 5-AAA schedule.
“If I had to say we have a weakness offensively, and it is a part of the game we are really working on, it would be our height. With Jessica, Marissa, Qeturah and Cassidy, we do have a majority of our starters who are 5-10, 5-11 or taller. We have a little bit of height with the upcoming girls also. When they are all out there I feel we have some pretty good height. We just haven’t had them all here yet, so it feels like we don’t have any at the moment,” Flowers joked.
“I think we are going to be competitive. I don’t feel there is a team we can’t beat. Our district is challenging in and of itself. All the teams are stronger this year. I feel the competition is pretty even. I don’t think there is any one team that is way better than another. It is anybody’s game this year.”