Senior-led Orioles work for on-court chemistry, balance

Augusta has the pieces to be a competitive team this season.

Katy Nordman will be one of the best hitters in the area. Mariah Zerr can hit well and will be a key back-row passer. Abby Tipton will be a key blocker and hitter from the middle. Hope Travaille, a first-year varsity player, can be one of the team's better passers.

Mixing those pieces and making sure they work together may be the biggest challenge for this year's squad. Not a lot of the Orioles have extended playing time with each other, especially with several new faces and younger players stepping into key roles.

But coach Rich Bishop has a lot of confidence in the Orioles. Bishop said they have taken full advantage of the team's summer program. They're in even better condition than they were before the start of last season. And even though there isn't a ton of playing time together, Bishop said the Orioles' chemistry is strong and should help their growth together on the court.

"We're a lot further already than we have been in the past," Nordman said. "...but [we are] just working on the chemistry of playing together on the court, knowing what each other is going to do. And that will come with playing more."

They'll get their first chance of that when the Orioles begin the regular season with a tournament in Winfield Saturday.

"They'll get to know who's beside them, what their tendencies are and things like that," Bishop said of the team chemistry.

"Take it from me..."

The seniors have taken a strong leadership presence on the court, which will be essential with the younger players like freshman Faith Hallmark and sophomore Bailey Carr, both of whom already are playing varsity.

"Our communication is very high this year," Zerr said. "Just learning about each other's skills and seeing how we can mesh together."

Nordman said she remembers what it was like to play varsity as a younger player, so she wants to be a big help to this year's younger group.

"The main point is not only just to do well on varsity, but we want to build the program. We seniors are trying to help the freshman as much as possible," Nordman said.

Getting in position

What Bishop likes about the pieces he has is how versatile they are. During practices so far, the Orioles have shown they can be good in all phases of the game. The only hiccup is consistency. There isn't that one tall girl or dominating player who can take over a match, so all the Orioles will have to play hard every point and make adjustments to get the most out of the team, even during tough stretches.

"If we get down at any time, we've got to be able to pick ourselves back up and recover quickly," Zerr said. "When we get tired, we've got to push through that."

Zerr, who said she's been anxious for the season to start since the end of last year, is a prime example of players learning to adjust. Zerr has hitting in her blood, but not being incredibly tall has opened opportunities for her to take on more roles. She's improved her passing and back-row play. But she'll still work to be a top hitter.

"It's mainly a confidence thing for me. If I have good confidence, I can do it," Zerr said.

Hitting, however, is only a product of good passing. Bishop has stressed that aspect probably more than any other.

"We've worked so much on passing and trying to get those details down. First step, that quick step, flat form, wrists out, things like that. The technique stuff," Bishop said.

Travaille, who will handle the weak side on most plays, is trying to lead by example with her passing. She's also working on being a consistent, all-around player.

"It's always my passing he says I'm good at," said Travaille of Bishop. "I need to work on my hitting. If I'm on one day, I'm on. If I'm off, I'm off. So more consistency with my hitting."

Something new

Setting, of course, is a huge part of passing. One new face on the Orioles' squad is Madison Macari, who transferred to Augusta this year from Circle. Macari, another senior, will be Augusta's primary setter. While that's a big adjustment for her since she's never handled the position before, Macari already is getting used to its nuances and figuring out how to improve.

"Really learned how to beat the ball to the spot, and square up," Macari said about switching to setter. "And it's different because you have to know every one of your hitters, where they like the ball."

Macari, who said she's enjoyed getting to know her new teammates, also will play at the right-side hitting position. Carr, now a first-year varsity player, will help as a setter.

Another new face, Elizabeth Heit, who moved to Augusta from Emporia, will bring immediate help on offense to the Orioles.

Bishop said Tipton, also new to the varsity level, brings much-needed physicality to the middle position.

"She's strong. Really strong. Sometimes too strong," Bishop said with a laugh.

Between the veterans and the new players, Augusta has developed a special, drama-free chemistry that should bode well for its on-the-court develeopment. Bishop said their attitude is a big plus.

"They're very receptive, they listen well and they want to be here," Bishop said.