With strong senior class, Valley volleyball looking to pick up wins on, off court
Monday, September 13, 2021 | 12:23 PM
At Valley, life lessons are handed out as frequently as volleyball lessons by coach April Stone.
Stone, in her eighth season leading the Vikings girls volleyball program, is focused on the team’s improvement and is excited to lead a veteran group of players in their final high school season. But she also knows volleyball is ancillary when it comes to the bigger picture.
“My main concern is to build them as individuals, not just athletes and students, but build them as individuals and community members,” said Stone. “And to show them that, yeah, playing a sport in high school is really cool and being good at it is even cooler, but when that’s all said and done, it’s the individual that really counts.”
That philosophy means grades are of the utmost importance in the Valley program, and that goes beyond simply meeting the eligibility requirements to participate, as Stone offers additional resources to make sure that her players are doing their best.
Outside of the classroom — and the gym — Valley’s community efforts are vast, too. Last season the team “adopted” local police officers. They have students involved in volunteer lifeguarding and picking up litter, and they fill backpacks with school supplies for those in need before the school year begins.
“Reaching them at this age is kind of difficult,” Stone said. “But if I can just put that little bit into them and they realize that becoming a strong individual, independent and working towards their community and being proud of where they come from, is very important.”
On the court, the Vikings are hoping to turn things around after going 2-9 in Section 5-2A last season. But talent and leadership, Stone said, are not missing.
“We have four seniors who have played together for the last six years,” said Stone, adding that the senior group went unbeaten in their middle school years.
The team’s top player will be Emily Lewandowski, one of those seniors who was part of that middle school squad and who once served a “perfect game” in a 25-0 set victory against Riverview in 2018.
She is excited about some refinements in her jump serve, which she was inspired to enhance after watching college volleyball matches.
“I am so excited to be playing on this team for my last year,” said Lewandowski, who hopes to attend either Pitt or Seton Hill to major in either forensic science or business. “I’m looking for everyone to do their best. I love this team. We have such a good bond.”
Stone has also seen great improvement from sophomore Jessica Staraniec.
“Jessica this year found her feet,” Stone said. “She always would text me that she wanted to be out on the big court and asked, ‘Am I good enough to play?’ Me not putting her out there and not letting her fail on a varsity court as a freshman, I kind of made her want it more.”
Ultimately, with Stone’s equal focus on her players’ habits on and off of the court, she hopes for an all-around successful year for her team, which has shown improved dedication to one another and the sport.
“As a coach, I’m looking forward to this season,” she said. “I can’t get these girls out of the gym. But hey, it’s better than them being anywhere else, as long as their school work is done.”
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