By Kyle LoJacono
The 2011 Wharton volleyball team has one of the most successful regular seasons in program history, but the ending was unsatisfying for the Wildcats.
The squad went 19-4, but lost in the Class 8A-District 7 semifinals to Plant. A victory would have given Wharton its first postseason berth since 2006.
The Wildcats graduated eight seniors and return just four players, but those back are ready to take that next step into the playoffs.
“Everyone’s wondering if we can do it again,” said senior outside hitter Caci Andreychuk. “That’s always the question. I think this team will be as good or better than last year. … There’s a little pressure because you want to at least do as good as you did last year, but I think we’ve got the players to do it.”
Part of that confidence is a result of calling up several talented young players from the junior varsity (JV) team while adding a few freshmen to the varsity squad, including libero Chanelle Hargreaves.
“I went to a lot of the matches last year and saw that they were really good,” said Hargreaves, 14. “I was excited to try and be a part of it. … I’m actually pretty nervous. All the older girls have been here for years already. They know how things are, and I’m kind of just trying to find out how high school works.”
Senior setter Ashton Stocker, who has committed to Furman College, said the team may be young, but there is still a lot of talent on the court.
“It’s really exciting,” said the 6-foot-1 Stocker. “As long as we can figure out how to make it work we should have a really good season. … They definitely have the talent. Chanelle is amazing already. I think we have the talent, but we are young so we have to get them comfortable with playing.”
Fifth-year Wharton coach Eric Barber said the ability to replenish the varsity squad each year was something he wanted when he came to the Wildcats.
“It comes down to trying to establish a program here, not just a team,” Barber said. “The girls that I had that first year on varsity did a great job starting that process. They were great workers and really bought in to the idea of working hard and building a successful team to the point that last year we saw the fruit of that.”
The biggest hole from graduation is front and center, where 6-foot-2 middle hitter Stephany Brown patrolled.
Brown recorded a team-high 84 blocks last year, averaging 1.3 per set to tie for 10th most in the state. She also had 157 kills and 29 aces. She signed with Palm Beach Atlantic University following the season.
“Skill wise, losing Stephany left a hole,” Barber said. “That was a position that I was really kind of concerned about coming into this season. Can we fill that middle position as a team? We do have a girl, Avery Day, who’s coming up from junior varsity. She really did awesome in the offseason. She played club. She got a lot better, so we have high hopes that she’ll come into that middle position and make an impact.”
Barber said he has no worries about the setter and outside hitter positions with Stocker and Andreychuk.
“I think Ashton is the best setter in the district,” Barber said. “Just unbelievably talented. Caci is just an all-around player. She’s really strong, but she does more than just hit.”
Along with posting 324 assists in 2011, Stocker had 63 digs, 56 kills, 48 blocks and 38 aces. Andreychuk had a team-high 291 kills, 164 digs and 57 aces last season while adding 20 blocks.
The squad also gets a boost at outside/rightside hitter from Freedom transfer Hannah Kaczmarek. The junior, a first-team All-Western Conference and All-Laker/All-Lutz News selection, racked up 364 kills last year. She attended Wharton as a freshman and her family moved back into the school’s district this summer.
Stocker and Andreychuk have been taking on more of a leadership role while training for their senior season,
“Because we had so many seniors last year, me and Ashton didn’t have to be leaders,” said the 5-foot-11 Andreychuk. “Now it’s our time to shine and really lead.”
Getting through 8A-7 is no simple task. The district includes Alonso (10-9), Bloomingdale (10-4), along with Durant (11-12) and Plant (18-9) which both made the postseason last year. Plant has also won state championships in five of the last six years.
“Hands down it’s one of the toughest districts in the state,” Barber said. “Going through those kind of teams prepares you to get ready for state and have a good shot at it.”
Neither Stocker nor Andreychuk have experienced the postseason in high school. Andreychuk has only attended Wharton, while Stocker transferred last season from Wiregrass Ranch, a program still seeking its first playoff berth.
The girls have played together for five years at the club level, and they agreed getting into postseason would be significant.
“It would be a huge deal,” Andreychuk said. “It just gives me chills right now talking about it. You see our banner up there and there’s not a lot on it. There’s not a lot of action on that banner, and it’d be great to change that.”
Stocker added, “I really do think we have a really good chance at being district champions. … It would be amazing. That’s what I’ve been working toward, and it would be awesome to do it my senior year.”
The Wildcats open the regular season at Leto on Sept. 4 at 7:30 p.m. The 8A-7 tournament is at Durant Oct. 23 to 25, with the championship match on Oct. 25 at 7 p.m.
—Stats as recorded to Maxpreps.com by coaches
Player Pos. Yr. Ht.
Caci Andreychuk OH Sr. 5-11
Avery Day MH So. 6-1
Chanelle Hargreaves L Fr. 5-5
Gabrielle Jackson RS/OH Jr. 5-7
Hannah Kaczmarek RS/OH Jr. 6-1
Kathryn Kastner RS Sr. 5-6
Caitlin Lievre DS Sr. 5-5
Kylie Paul DS Jr. 5-3
Kristy Rosica OH Jr. 5-7
Lindsey Schaible MH Fr. 6-1
Doranna Smith DS Jr. 5-5
Ashton Stocker S Sr. 6-1
Kennedy Stocker RS/OH So. 5-7