For years, the Warren County school volleyball programs have been playing catchup on the court against their biggest rivals. The Lady Pioneers have more than held their own, even winning a few titles at WCMS and WCHS, but communities with dedicated travel teams playing throughout the year always seemed to have the upper hand. That gap closed in a big way this winter.
Unity Volleyball Club was formed to give girls more chances to compete and the interest was immediate. Enough girls emerged locally to complete 14U and 17U rosters and the groups spent the last two months competing in tournaments. It was a resounding success according to Erin Blalock, who is acting as director of the new travel program.
"I am so excited we were able to get this club going. Our girl was to give the young ladies in our community who want to improve in the offseason a chance to do so. What we've seen is exactly that," said Blalock, a former Lady Pioneer who has a daughter emerging on the WCHS team. "We have girls who are brand new to the sport that have truly grown to love playing and we have young ladies who have been playing for several years who have really been able to fine-tune their skills."
No program is destined to succeed without great leadership and Blalock was able to corral several local leaders to help with Unity. Franklin Fisher, the all-time wins leaders in WCHS volleyball history, and Bethany Fye, a former Lady Pioneer who still holds school records, took on roles on the sidelines, while Blalock and Holly Palombo - the WCMS volleyball coach - helped oversee the programs.
"I am so thankful for the coaches who dedicated their time to help the girls. I appreciate everything they have done for the players, for the club and for the game of volleyball," said Blalock, who also added a special thanks to Covenant Academy and WCHS for allowing the groups to get in plenty of court time this winter.
Fisher is no stranger to building up a program, just like he did with volleyball at WCHS, and he was pleased with how his group finished the season.
"They developed nicely. Club ball in the volleyball world is made up of teams of veteran players with all-stars from 3-4 teams (from different areas). We had a large majority of our players with little-to-no varsity experience from just two teams," said Fisher. "They overcame the inexperience and some untimely injuries with grit. In our last tournament, they finished 5-2 and won the bronze bracket."
Blalock is hopeful this year was just the start of major success locally. Now that kids have more chances to play, it's not hard to imagine Warren County building even more of a powerhouse on the court in coming years. "I look forward to watching the very first Unity Volleyball Club members succeed in the future, both on and off the court," said Blalock. "I'm also excited to continue building the club and the love for the sport of volleyball."