The previous season’s win-loss record only tells part of the story for any team. For the Constantine volleyball squad, its 11-29-5 mark in 2012 is mostly a reminder of how many close matches were lost, how it battled in an extremely tough league and how it’s better for it.
With a sturdy returning group and a few new pieces, the Falcons, which entered last year’s Kalamazoo Valley Association tournament in seventh place but lost both matches to drop to last, think they have a legitimate shot of climbing from the bottom all the way back into title contention.
Powerhouse Schoolcraft, which advanced to the Class C state quarterfinals last year and knocked Constantine out in the district finals, is again the team to beat. After nearly a decade of playing together, though, this collection of Constantine athletes think a payoff is on the horizon.
“This group of girls is one that has been consistent throughout the years since third grade,” Tulley said. “It was obvious that they were going to become a good team when they hit the varsity level. They all love the game, are very hard workers and always want more volleyball. A lot of years at the beginning of the season, we are still trying to figure out who is playing where and toying with lineups, but not with this group. They have been playing since last season, everyone knows their role, and now we just work to improve every day.”
Junior Zoe Jones is on the outside this year after mostly setting in 2012, and is a “very versatile player who can play all positions on the court,” Tulley explained, and “is one of the hardest hitters we have had in many years.”
Classmate Danica Lucas, another outside hitter and defensive specialist, is perhaps the team’s emotional leader whose intensity is relied on heavily. She and senior Lexie Harrison led the team in serve-receive percentage and digs last season.
Another junior, Jessica Mallo, has great vision and anticipation on offense in the middle and is a “big reason we are going to be more competitive this season,” Tulley said. Senior Kelsey Potter staffed the libero position in 2012, but because most players on the roster are savvy defensively, her role this fall is more of a back-row manager. Senior Jordan Smith adds creativity to the Falcons’ offensive arsenal, making up for lesser power with a topspin spike that gives defenders fits.
Senior defensive specialist Michelle Smith takes is personal when a ball drops and is one of the best communicators on the roster. Senior setter Cassie Wentela shared duties with Jones last year but has earned full-time duties in 2013. Through a lot of time spent in gyms over the summer, she and the Falcons hitters have developed chemistry.
“Some of our strengths are going to be our offense — we have some pretty tough hitters at the net this season,” Tulley said. “And our blocking game is much improved from years past. Our serving is also a strength; the girls serve very aggressively and they are learning to attack in every aspect of the game. They are focused on controlling the game and not giving away the ball.
“The KVA is a tough league, but these kids are finally grasping the idea that it’s only making us better to play up to the next level. We are a much more solid team … we are experienced and ready to compete.”
Coach: Niki Tulley (10th year)
2012 recap: The Falcons finished 11-29-5 overall and 3-6 in the Kalamazoo Valley Association and finished last in the league after losing both matches at the conference tournament. Constantine beat Marcellus in the Class C district semifinals before bowing out the tournament against Schoolcraft, which advanced all the way to the state quarterfinals.
Key players in 2013: Zoe Jones (Jr., OH/DS); Danica Lucas (Jr., OH/DS); Jessica Mallo (Jr., MH/DS); Deshea Payton (Sr., OH); Lexie Harrison (Sr., MH/DS); Kelsey Potter (Sr., DS); Jordan Smith (Sr., OH); Michelle Smith (Sr., DS); Cassie Wentela (Sr., S).