North Hills girls volleyball aims to change course under new coach

Thursday, September 6, 2018 | 11:48 PM

Plenty of first-year varsity coaches talk about changing the culture around a program that had a tough season the year before their arrival.

Renewing the spirits around the North Hills girls volleyball program, which went 3-13 last season at the varsity level, was one of the utmost priorities for new coach Vicky Danko. Time wouldn’t be an issue, since Danko was hired to fill the post last winter. So, she went about changing the team’s culture the old-fashioned way — through hard work and focus.

“It’s about commitment. They worked really hard for a long time, long before we got on the court and played against any opponents. Integrating a strong summer program was a good start,” Danko said.

“Working hard almost year-round, it’s just about getting that mental toughness and improving capability. It’s about changing the ‘I can’t do this’ culture. Last year was tough for the team, and that’s a mentality that I wanted to change going into this season.”

According to Danko, some of the team’s most experienced players have helped to pave the way in getting their teammates on board for their coach’s new approach. A few of them have even switched positions and are seeing promising results through the transition.

Senior Rachel Blakely, who played right-side hitter last season, is beginning to shine at outside hitter, Danko said. In addition, junior Meghan Dominek is switching from libero to play as a defensive specialist.

“Rachel, we decided to move her to the outside and honestly, she’s killing it. She’s doing a really great job. I definitely see her having an all-section type of season,” Danko said.

“I would expect that same type of performance from Meghan. She’s really solid in the back row. The ball goes on target with her, right where it needs to be. I never have to ask twice about that.”

Opposite from Blakely, the team’s other outside hitter role will be filled by sophomore Sydney Ryan.

Middle hitters Bri Lawry and Asia Neill also return to play significant roles for the Indians. Junior Julia Molinaro will play setter after seeing time at the position as a sophomore.

So far, the benefits from Danko’s’ approach are starting to pay off as the Indians took first place in the preseason Slippery Rock volleyball tournament after topping Villa Maria Academy, 3-2, in the finals.

“Winning that tournament was great,” Danko said. “They played very well and we were happy to take home that first-ace trophy. They did really well and handled everything that they needed to do. It’s good to see that hard work pay off a little bit, to start.”

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.


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