SALAMANCA — Brandy Kinney hopes to see some fruits of the labor of youth volleyball development this fall.
Make no mistake, it’s been a difficult run for the Salamanca varsity girls volleyball program, which struggled to keep enough varsity players in recent years and finished winless last season. But now, not only does Kinney see an influx in varsity numbers, but Salamanca returns to fielding three teams: varsity, junior varsity and modified.
The week before Tuesday’s season opener at Randolph, Salamanca’s varsity roster included 12 students in grades 10 through 12 with five returning varsity players and three starters.
So why the rising numbers this year? For one, Kinney, while noting rising school spirit, credits the Little Diggers community education program she instructs, which last year expanded from grades to include grades seven and eight after previously including just second through sixth.
“We had 22 second graders show up so really (good for) the future,” Kinney said. “But what was happening is I’d get these girls in fifth and sixth grade and there was nowhere to go because there was no modified so then I lost them. Some ended up going to swim or play soccer where they could play. So numbers are up because I can actually have three teams now. We’ve got 10 girls on modified and then I’ve got 12 on varsity and 14 on JV. I played a couple years ago with like seven girls. We’re not turning anyone away because we’re trying to build now that we’re getting them, building a system and building a program.”
The numbers prompted the team to order new varsity uniforms to account for a new team.
“We ended up with no uniforms because we ended up having to stock up,” Kinney said. “We haven’t had to have uniforms because we haven’t had teams.”
Versatile fourth-year starting senior Caryn Miller plays several positions for Kinney, starting most often at outside hitter. Senior libero Michelle Pierce and sophomore outside/setter Quiana Stevens also started last fall and sophomore Kylee Dowdy and senior Sophie McKenzie return with varsity experience.
Miller and junior Taylore Swain serve as captains.
Kinney praised Miller, a captain since she was a freshman, as a leader willing to sacrifice her statistics to help the team.
“If you look statistically, since I lost her sister (Ashley, to graduation), she has led every single stat,” Kinney said. “She’s led digs and she’s not a libero. She’s led hits, kill percentage, blocks, everything. She’s led every single stat which is her best asset but also her worst enemy because when you’re good at everything, when it comes to state teams and all those when they pick at the end of the year for the league, you’re going against somebody who all they do is outside hit. So her stats are everywhere and all they do is outside hitting so they get three times what she does.
“It’ll be nice for her because I finally have some people who have stepped in to setting roles and three deep in defensive specialists so I have options for putting people in the back row. Typically I’ve looked at the bench and there hasn’t been anyone there even just for team support.”
New junior varsity coach Erin Scutt joins the program with experience playing at Portville while Danielle Reynolds takes over modified after coaching JV last year.
Salamanca plays in a stacked CCAA East division alongside Allegany-Limestone, Cattaraugus-Little Valley, Ellicottville, Olean, Portville and Randolph. The Warriors may still be on the outside of a group that includes perennial sectional contenders, but Kinney’s team sees what it needs to get there some day.
“The girls see it and they’re starting to get the hunger to want to do it,” she said. “I said you don’t know what it’s like to win and you don’t have that feeling, then you can’t recreate it. That’s where we need to be so I’m hoping once it starts clicking together that that’s where we’ll be. I’m not saying (we’ll be) Portville next year but what I’m saying is finally getting girls who want to (here), who have that motivation to come to open gyms all summer.”
After visiting Randolph Tuesday, Sept. 5, the Warriors play three straight at home: Thursday (Portville), Friday (Dunkirk) and Tuesday (Olean), all at 6:30 p.m. after JV matches at 5.