By Sam Wilson
Starting her fourth year as varsity girls volleyball coach in Ellicottville coach Katie Auge sounds comfortable, not just in knowing her players but the coaching staff around her.
That’s leading to some optimism this fall coming off a .500 2017 season (8-8) with an experienced group of all juniors and seniors, including four returning starters for the Eagles. Auge’s first year coincided with the first year of the Ellicottville/West Valley merger in all sports and she’s noticed the girls from both schools become more comfortable with each other over the years.
“I think we’ve already made enough progress so far in preseason that we’re already better than how we ended off last season,” Auge said. “We’re very pleased, myself and my JV coach, with the work ethic that the girls have had. They’re working so hard. This is year four of the merge with West Valley. Three years ago they were still learning each other. By now they’ve played together for years and they all know each other and they’re all working towards that common goal.”
Seniors Linnea Jimerson, a returning starter, and Hannah Delity and Rachel Frascella lead the team as captains. At outside hitter, Jimerson led the team with 114 kills last season.
“The way they’ve really stepped up as seniors and really had that team-first kind of outlook,” Auge said. “They’re really doing a great job of being role models to the other girls in that leadership role.”
Senior libero Malorie Chamberlain, senior middle blocker Sierra Maybee (24 blocks) and junior setter Makenna Smith also return as starters.
Continuity in the coaching staff has also helped Auge focus more on the varsity this year.
“This will be the first year that I have the same coaching staff,” she said. “That’s never happened so far. I’m excited that it’s a little bit more that, you know in years past I’ve had to maybe help out a little bit more at the other levels to make sure that the coaches understood the game, understood everything that coaching involved. This year I can really just focus on the girls in the gym and our team getting better and less on the other teams because I have confidence in my coaches.”
ECS has 14 varsity players with a solid group behind them of 10 for junior varsity and 15 modified. The Eagles’ JV squad earned a second-place finish last Friday at the Chautauqua Lake tournament.
The varsity squad got an early look at the season with the Pitt-Bradford team camp shortly before practices started.
“We played played eight different teams that we’ve never played before,” Auge said. “We were kind of a nobody coming up and I only had about half of the girls from the team but it rewarded those players that showed up because they played in almost every game and I was able to see right away these are some things we need to fix going right into preseason. They were able to get some of those jitters out and play right away, just the confidence right from the start and getting better even throughout the two days we were there at the camp. And parents were allowed to come too. It’s like a tournament format but it’s a team camp and parents loved it. They thought this was a wonderful camp and an opportunity for their daughters to play.”
The Eagles play in a CCAA East division led by defending Class C state champion Portville, along with consistently strong programs like Randolph and Cattaraugus-Little Valley.
“One of the heavy hitters every single year is Portville,” Auge said. “They only dropped one match last year and we’d love to really give them a battle this year. Catt-Little Valley always has a good squad, Randolph is always good. We have one of the toughest leagues for volleyball in the area.”
But ultimately, Auge wants her team to stay consistent regardless of its level of opponent.
“We talked about what do we need to do to beat this team … what do we need to do to beat that team and some of their answers were different,” Auge said, “but we got a common denominator of we need to play volleyball, we need to work together. No matter who we play, we can control what we’re doing and if we control what we’re doing ultimately we’ll reach that goal and we should be ahead on the scoreboard at the end of the night.
“It’s when we start over-thinking things (like) ‘This team isn’t that good,’ no, we can’t have that. We have to play volleyball every single night. That’s your goal, that’s what you need to do.”
The Eagles hope to improve on their record, with an eye on a run in the Section 6 Class D playoffs.
“Our goal this year is to have a winning team,” Auge said. “That could mean the overall record but ultimately it just means our team attitude and our work ethic as we are going from game to game and I like to think we either win or we learn, instead of losing we either win or we learn and we are going to make changes and keep getting better and better. We did team goals at practice the other day and a big common goal that everyone had was making a run in the playoffs, going past the first team and having a really good postseason.”