Although Westfall head coach Lori Merriman does have the luxury of having the two time, Scioto Valley Conference player-of-the-year, in Eastern Michigan bound Cassie Sowers, she quickly realized this summer that Tara Burleson, Samantha Graham, Trisha Near, Brittney McBride, and Mallory Earich have all left some big holes in the Mustang rotation. The Lady Mustangs will ask some upperclassmen to take on bigger roles and they will also look to some younger kids to push for varsity time to help Westfall continue a winning tradition that has been present for the past decade.
As Merriman enters her 11th season as the coach in Williamsport, she carries a ten year track record that includes two SVC titles, nine sectionals titles, eight district championships and three regional crowns. With this type of resume, it is easy to see why they hate to use the word “rebuild” in a Westfall program that has dominated Division III volleyball in southeast Ohio in recent history.
“Cassie is a special talent, but after that we only have a few girls with big-game varsity experience,” Merriman said. “The few girls that do have experience are going to be asked to play much bigger roles than in the past, and we are also looking at some younger girls who will compete for some major varsity time.”
Some of the returnees that Merriman hopes can fill the Westfall needs are senior defensive specialist Amy Adams, as well as, classmate Stephanie Marvin. Merriman will also look to junior Nicole Ratcliff to sure up the defense and junior Suzie Gantz will be asked to move from backside-hitter to strong-side and middle-hitter. The Mustangs also have some young kids from last year’s junior varsity team as well as a couple of freshmen that could compete for some time as well.
The transition for the newcomers should be made easier with the presence of Sowers. Sowers has been one of the top players in southern Ohio over the past three seasons. Throughout her career, her versatility has always given Merriman a lot of options. As a freshman, Sowers played all the way around hitting and passing in a 5-1 offense led by All-Ohio setter Kelsey Sewards, and then as a sophomore and junior moved to a 6-2 offense where she was asked to set out of the back row to allow Merriman to use as many weapons as possible. Sowers versatility will give Westfall the opportunity to attack defenses in multiple ways. Her volleyball skills are undeniable, but her leadership skills have been something her coach has been extremely impressed with during the off-season.
“(Cassie) has shown some solid leadership with the young kids this summer,” Merriman said. “With her making the early decision on college, it has taken some pressure off of her and allowed her to let the game come to her. With a young team, we really need her to step up as a leader and so far she has definitely done that for our team.”
Based on Westfall’s run over the past decade and the return of Sowers, the Lady Mustangs will still most likely be picked second or third in their conference in most preseason discussions. Scioto Valley volleyball talk seems to always start with perennial powers Adena and Westfall, but a very experienced and athletic Unioto team, a very deep Huntington program, and a much improved Zane Trace squad should make for a tight race for the top-half spots in this eight-team conference.
“The league is going to be very good, and we are going to have to work hard to stay towards the top,” Merriman said. “With our non-league schedule, we are still going to play in the Elgin tournament and we play several D-II schools around the area, so we are going to have our hands full. Even though things could be tough early, I think this team has the potential to improve and still make a nice tournament run. Our sectional and district is going to be extremely difficult this season, but hopefully playing in the SVC and playing a solid non-league schedule will help prepare us for that when the time comes.”