By Andrew Stark
CHARLOTTE – It’s sort of been the same story for the Charlotte Catholic volleyball team for each of the past three seasons under coach Tracy Landschoot.
The Cougars always have talented players, but that can go two-fold as they play on various club and travel teams with different coaches and different philosophies. By the time Landschoot gets her players, it takes a while to reel them in and it shows.
In 2016, the Cougars started 1-3. Last year, they were 3-2, and this season, Catholic came out of the gates 2-6. But, much like this season, they always seem to rebound.
“Our chemistry is better and we’ve just gotten confident with each other,” Landschoot said following a 3-0 loss to Marvin Ridge on Oct. 16 ended a 16-game win streak. “These guys play club all over at different places, and I don’t have them in a single practice all summer. Sso for us, it just takes awhile to figure it all out.
“We had some injuries and some odd things that happened early on. We found our groove probably about three weeks ago. Our chemistry clicked in and we’ve been getting better and better every day.”
The Cougars (18-8) had been playing well, and were winners of 48 of the 61 sets before losing twice in consecutive matches to rival Marvin Ridge, who is 38-2 and among the tops team in the nation.
The losses didn’t damper the Cougars spirits, and their diverse attack will look to regroup entering this week’s opening round of the playoffs.
Olivia Anderson, Claire Portigue and Catherine Anderson have all totaled over 100 kills. Lauren Hall leads the team in digs and assists but the Cougars big gun is senior Emma Ellis, a Purdue commit who strikes the ball with tremendous force and is perhaps the state’s best player.
“She’s awesome,” Landschoot said. “I think Emma Ellis is the best kid on the floor. I don’t think anyone we see or anyone we’ll play is asked of her what I ask of her. She’s in the middle of the court to receive (the serve) every time, she’s playing all around and she’ll play middle, right side or outside. I don’t think there’s a better kid around than Emma. She’s a true competitor, a true champion and a dynamite kid.”
Ellis draws a lot of attention defensively. She is definitely a player opponents are game planning to contain, although she still leads the Cougars with 357 kills and 52 blocks and has recorded over 200 digs. For her career, Ellis is one of five Cougars to surpass the 1,000-career kill plateau.
“She’s such an exceptional player and she hits such a hard ball that we need to make sure we’re on the right spots,” Marvin Ridge coach Brook Hammers said of Ellis. “That’s the biggest challenge for us is we have to stay disciplined against them. I kept saying that if we were disciplined and we were in the spots we needed to be and at the net where we’re supposed to be, then they have to work around us. I think we made them do that some.”Despite the Cougars dropping consecutive games to the Mavs, they’ve still won 16 of their previous 18 and enter their playoff match against Statesville (11-18), who has lost five of its past six matches.
“We knew Marvin was going to be faster than what we’ve ever seen,” Landschoot said. “You could tell it took us until about the third set to lineup with just their speed.
“Some people say having a team like Marvin Ridge in your conference is a bad thing, but I don’t think so. There isn’t a better way to prep or a better way to get better and we’re going to build off this and pick it back up.”