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Prep volleyball: Buffalo seeks the right mixture

By Nick Brockman

CHARLESTON, W.Va. - Throw out the beakers and diagrammed molecules, the Buffalo volleyball team develops chemistry with support and dedication throughout the summer training period.

Bygone are the graduated senior standouts and income the neophyte freshmen. The three-week summer practice time provides programs like Buffalo the opportunity to mix pieces together and develop the right balance and trust necessary for regular-season success.

"Chemistry is probably the most important thing when it comes to volleyball," senior Katie Higginbotham said. "Volleyball's a sport, if you mess up and get down, the whole team's going to shutdown, because you don't have time to get down on yourself. You have to get right back up and go at it again. This past week, the seniors have really tried to communicate with the younger girls and get them talking."

Without a middle school program to develop, the youngest of Buffalo's volleyball players utilize the summer period to both learn the varsity demands of the sport and mesh with their newfound teammates.

"That's a big part of the summer, to bring the new girls in," Coach Brian Null said. "This is a perfect time for the middle school girls to get in and kind of learn what we do, what it's all about, the difference between playing real volleyball versus playing gym class volleyball. The ones that show certainly have a big advantage come try-out time, because they'll know what our expectations are and how we want things done."

Higginbotham, who will look to replace some of the production and leadership lost by Courtney Persinger and Hannah Toney, echoed her coach's words, demonstrating her readiness to fill the departed veterans' responsibilities.

"We're teaching basic fundamentals and as the weeks go on, hopefully, by the end of these three weeks, we'll have them playing scrimmages against the veterans and learning the basics, learning how fast the game is," she said, "but right now, we're mainly focusing on passing, learning how to set. A lot of times, the veteran players will pick one of the newer players and take them aside and work with them, because a lot of times the younger kids will listen to a player who's played before maybe better than a coach would."

Higginbotham, a 5-foot-11 left-handed hitter, represents one of many strong returning parts for Buffalo, which fell in regional play to eventual Class A state champion Williamstown.

"We're well ahead of where we were last year," Null said. "We already look like we did last year in September. I've been really impressed with where we're at."

In addition to hitting, the Bison is expected to excel in setting, Null said.

"Our setter, sophomore Rachel Martin, broke every record we ever had, as a freshman," he said. "She was breaking records, as a freshman, of girls that were seniors, were first-team all-staters, so our setting will be really strong. We bring back four of our five hitters, so we've been hitting the ball really good in practice."

Beyond chemistry, the Bison will look to develop team defense, too, this summer.

"What we're really working on is improving our defense as a whole, as a team," Null said. "Last year, we assigned people very small areas to defend and gave (Persinger) pretty much 60, 70 percent of the court, because she could cover it, so we're adjusting our defensive scheme. We're going to rely more on an overall team defense rather than just relying on one person."

Buffalo will look to put its methods to practice throughout the summer. The Bison will play in a 12-team summer tournament at regional foe Charleston Catholic on Saturday. On June 29, Buffalo will play a quad match at Ravenswood. The team will also look to schedule dual scrimmages, if possible, Null said.

"We're going hard at it, that's for sure," Higginbotham said of the summer regimen.

The Bison need that attitude and dedication to hit this year's goal.

"We definitely want to get back to the State Tournament," Null said referencing the program's back-to-back season absences from the Civic Center.

With hard work and a little bit of study in summer chemistry, Buffalo could be on its way.



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