It’s not easy for a new coach to come in and take the reins of a team. Likewise it’s not that simple for athletes to welcome a new coach with open arms, especially after they said goodbye to someone who stayed on for only one season.
Yet the Cheney High volleyball team overcame a steam learning curve to finish 8-4 in Great Northern League competition, 10-5 overall, and becoming co-regular season champions with the Pullman Greyhounds. The Blackhawks wrapped up their season after being eliminated from the GNL playoffs last season. I’ll have the recap of those games, as well as Cheney’s final season match against Pullman later this week.
I didn’t know what to expect from this year’s volleyball team. Heather Zorrozua took over for Courtney Webb, who had a good 2014 season with a 6-6 GNL record and 7-8 overall. For whatever reason Webb, who received GNL Coach of the Year, didn’t return.
Zorrozua came in with impressive credentials. She was captain of the Gonzaga University volleyball team her junior and senior year and comes from what she describes as a “volleyball family.” While she came in with strategies that centered around defense, what intrigued me about her was her background in mental health. A counselor for the district, Zorrozua brought a new kind of energy to the game. I’m used to seeing coaches stand up and cheer on their team, but Zorrozua was different in that she knew how to motivate her players.
Throughout the season, only two teams defeated Cheney – the Clarkston Bantams and Pullman. They swept East Valley and West Valley, which were two of the top teams from last year.
In the losses to Clarkston and Pullman, Cheney would grow frustrated and settle back, waiting for their opponents to make mistakes. Zorrozua occasionally tweaked the starting lineups and implement new strategies, which the team adapted to.
This year’s squad had a strong offense, particularly on the outside from Rylie Pease and Taylor Gould. Peyton Stark grew into her role as the team’s setter, averaging over 20 assists per match. Hailey Bridges, Ally Jones and KD Skillingstad were the core of the Blackhawks’ defense – though Pease and Gould had their moments on defense as well.
With only three seniors graduating, Cheney will have a strong core group next season. During an interview earlier today, Zorrozua said her team was the “youngest” in the league, which means the other teams will have to move younger players into starting roles – an adjustment to be sure but I’m sure the Blackhawks will see some hefty competition next year.
For Zorrozua, one of the challenges she faced was trying to change the volleyball culture in Cheney. It’s something many coaches want, but for a sport like volleyball it’s a little difficult to accomplish, especially when it comes to high school athletics. I’ve said it before, in prep sports – especially during this time of the year – football is king.
The other athletes and coaches recognized the effort the volleyball team put in this season. I’ve seen most of the football players at the home matches and head coach Bobby Byrd is a volleyball fan. It’s a little more challenging trying to get the word out in the community.
That said, this year’s Cheney team has earned their place in history with a district title. Next year’s team is primed to be better – as long as no one moves.
To quote Zorrozua, “I can’t wait for next year.”