Photo by Brian Paglia / Woodland seniors Nicole Findura (left) and Pam Konken lead a Lady Wolfpack team that’s matched the best start in school history.
It was time to get ready for a match, so Woodland volleyball coach Gerri Wright had her varsity and junior varsity teams go head-to-head for a quick scrimmage at the end of practice Monday.
It’s not something Wright does often.
“I think jayvee gets more out of it than varsity,” Wright said.
This time, jayvee got a near-bloody nose on a hit from Pam Konken and a dose of humility from hit after hit by Nicole Findura.
But it also got a taste of what it looks like to accomplish what Konken and Findura have — taking the torch of leadership from Woodland’s previous seniors and not missing a beat.
That’s the mission this season for Findura, Konken and the Lady Wolfpack’s other three seniors. They have the seniors of last season’s 26-16 team that lost in the second round of the state tournament to live up to.
Those are the expectations Wright feels are now engrained in the Lady Wolfpack program.
“I keep telling them we’ve gone to the second round of state so many times, I expect it,” Wright said. “They go out ready to win.”
So far Woodland has played like a team living up to Wright’s standards.
The Lady Wolfpack are 6-0 after defeating Lovejoy (25-15, 25-12) and Mundy’s Mill on Tuesday, matching the program’s best start in school history set last season, and have won 12 of 13 games in those six matches.
Wright knows her team has the mentality necessary to grind through a fast regular season and be in position to make the state tournament. It’s a quality Wright said she can detect early on and one she already recognizes in this year’s team.
But Wright said it will take an extra mental quality to be the first team to get past the second round of the state tournament in school history.
“That’s going to be mental,” Wright said. “They have the talent. We’ve got the mindset we can get past the first round. It’s the mindset of can we play that harder team? It really gets to those harder teams when it gets to the second round.”
Indeed, it met Starr’s Mill in the second round last season and the Lady Wolfpack lost in three straight games. It met Ringgold in 2009 and Woodland lost in four games.
That’s a trend this Lady Wolfpack team wants to end.
“We want to go to the third round,” Konken said. “That’d be awesome.”
Woodland looks the part of a quarterfinalist through the early part of the schedule, though it gets harder Thursday in a tri-match at Ola against the Lady Mustangs (5-0) and Locust Grove (7-3).
The Lady Wolfpack is off to a strong start despite having just five seniors on their 11-player roster. With three juniors and three sophomores, Woodland has had to develop communication and cohesion all over again.
Findura said the team must improve on its passing. Konken said getting the right chemistry is still a work in progress. Even more, Findura said Woodland’s younger and inexperienced players need to improve on working through adversity.
“We have to keep our spirits up,” Findura said. “When we get down, we getdown. We feed off each other.”
So far, they’ve fed off Konken and Findura’s leadership. The two are dynamic hitters, Konken from the outside and Findura primarily from the middle position. But there’s also plenty of talent around them in junior libero Kaitlyn Hodges, junior defensive specialist Tierra Gardner, senior Malika Gardner and sophomore Autumn DaCosta.
So far, they’ve looked like a team that could be one to reckon with in the state tournament.
“I think we’re the best in the county,” Konken said.