While many sports fans watch the freezing cold football games as the team’s chances of a victorious season look slim, the varsity volleyball team is heating things up with a strong record in the Sunflower League as they fight for a shot at state.
The volleyball team has made some huge strides since head coach Scott Dowis took over the program four years ago. This year, Dowis has coached the varsity squad to a 21-7 record and the number two spot in the Kansas Volleyball Association rankings.
Dowis believes that a reason for the success was the change in Kansas State High School Activities Association rules for summer sports training. In the past, coaches were not allowed to coach players throughout the summer, and they were only allowed a school camp and one team camp. With the rule change this summer, coaches were given unlimited access to their players, and were able to train and coach them throughout the summer.
“Every year I tweak something,” Dowis said. “I think there is a major pitfall for coaches who have been around for a while to start to believe that they know most everything there is know about teaching their sport.
Dowis took advantage of the rule change and the team began training two to three times a week and playing in the summer league on Tuesday nights at Fitness Plus, while still participating in the traditional camps, such as the Kansas University volleyball camp. Sophomore Leyann Dahlgren has played on the varsity squad the past two years and participated in the summer activities along with the rest of her teammates.
“The summer practices weren’t as hard as the season practices, but they were definitely helpful,” Dahlgren said. “They brought us closer and prepared us for the season. Last year, we lacked good leadership, and that is something we fixed this year through bonding. We spend a lot of time together and we have a lot of fun, but we know that to get to state we have to continue playing well. We always knew this success was possible, and now we have to follow through.”
The new rule created about 20 additional days of training in which the team was able implement the offensive and defensive systems.
“I think the truly great coaches continue to evolve their technique each year,” Dowis said. “I strive to do that and feel that each year I do a few things a little better than the year before.”
After a difficult losing season last year, the team began working on their teamwork and bonded. They spent more time watching game tape and giving each other feedback on their fundamentals.
This team is very special to Dowis, not because of the early success, but because it is the first group of players that have been under his leadership for their entire high school volleyball career. Some girls started on varsity as freshmen, while others have worked their way up from the freshman team.
“We have a good blend of upper and underclassmen,” Dowis said. “The seniors provide great leadership on and off the court, and the mixture of youth and experience has been a good combination with this group.”
Senior Kareen Schwartze has played varsity for Dowis the past four years and is a key leader on the squad.
“This year’s team has great chemistry and Dowis is a fun coach to play for,” Schwartze said. “We are having a lot fun this year and I think that is why the team is doing so well.”
Schwartze, Dahlgren and the rest of the varsity squad aren’t sidetracked by the success though. Their only focus is on winning sub-state on Oct. 30 and proving that this closely-knit group has got a shot at state.
“Just because a poll is declaring us the number two team in the state really doesn’t mean much to me,” Dowis said. “When we look back at the season and each player can honestly say that she gave everything she had playing her absolute hardest and smartest in each match and every practice and that she left nothing on the court when day was finished, well, then we can say we were successful.”