By Owen Gotimer
Purcellville (September 13, 2016) – High school teams do not have the same luxury that professional teams are sometimes granted regarding long-term roster consistency and team chemistry. Teams turnover on a yearly basis as seniors graduate, and the transition period can be taxing.
While the Potomac Falls High School volleyball team is no different than other teams transitioning from the previous year, the 2015 VHSL 5A state runner-up lost two integral parts of their team from last season: head coach Linda Lachey-Helms and 6-foot-5 North Carolina-commit Holly Carlton.
Yet first-year head coach Nick Puszert and senior outside hitter Kylie Thomas are finding a way to rally the young Lady Panthers, who beat Loudoun Valley High School in straight sets (25-22, 25-19, 25-16) on September 12 in Purcellville.
“There’s a lot on my shoulders,” Puszert said. “We have a young team, but I like to teach them, I like to coach them. Our expectations are still to come into every match playing together and to win.”
Puszert replaces Lachey-Helms who was instrumental in the installation of volleyball as a varsity sport in Loudoun County and in the rise of the Potomac Falls volleyball program. Until 2016, Lachey-Helms was the only head coach in the Panthers’ 19-year history who happened to cap off her career in 2015 with her first ever region title and state championship game appearance.
Even with the challenges of transitioning between a graduating class and a new coach, the Lady Panthers are off to a 3-3 start.
On September 12, Potomac Falls took early leads in each of their three sets, but had to battle throughout the match to fend off an ever-surging Lady Vikings defense.
“Their defense was their strongest part of the game by far,” Thomas said. “They got a lot of digs up and had a lot of one hand touches.”
Potomac Falls seemed to be on its way to an early 1-0 lead after controlling the early part of the first set, but Loudoun Valley turned on the pressure when dig after dig turned into points for the Lady Vikings.
“That was tough. It plays a lot on your mental ability to preserve through a lot of momentum,” Puszert said. “Loudoun Valley was playing fantastic defense; anything we were throwing at them, they were picking up.”
Loudoun Valley sophomore libero Hailey Walcott led the Lady Vikings defense in the first set, not only by digging ball after ball, but also by successfully passing those digs to her setter. But after the Lady Panthers held on to win set one, Walcott left the court for what her coach called a medical situation.
“She’s played really well the last couple of games. She’s been just lights out in the libero spot for us,” Loudoun Valley head coach Laird Johnson said. “She’s done a great job, but when she left, other girls needed to step up. I thought we did pretty well in the second set considering we hadn’t worked on that very much.”
Without Walcott, the Lady Vikings’ backline struggled to dig and to pass, and the Lady Panthers took advantage of these new gaps in Loudoun Valley’s defense.
“Our serving was really good and got a lot of aces off some of their players because we got them out of system,” Thomas said.
Although they had to make a lot of adjustments and fell in straight sets, Johnson feels his young defense knows what they have to do to stay successful this season.
“We have to stay competitive. As long as we can stay competitive and mentally focused, we’ll be able to stay successful,” Johnson said. “We’re very young, but we’re very skilled. We’re going to be alright.”
Sweeping a team is always a positive, but Potomac Falls had more to be proud of in being able to battle through the resilient challenge Loudoun Valley put up.
“We came together as a team. We picked each other up,” Puszert said. “If someone was having an off night, five other girls had her back. Together, as a team, we can do really good things.”