The 2020 season to this point has been a learning curve for several Winder-Barrow volleyball players and, admittedly, for first-year varsity head coach Rob Stover.
Stover, who coached the school’s junior-varsity team the last seven seasons, was promoted to the varsity job after David Rows stepped down to start up the volleyball program at the school district’s new high school, Barrow Arts and Sciences Academy. But with a team that is heavy in sophomores and with a group of players that is already familiar with playing for him, Stover said that comfortability helps make his new position a bit easier.
“Everybody that’s on the team now, I’ve coached over the past few years, so they’re used to me and my expectations, but it’s still a big jump for them and me,” said Stover, whose team is off to a 3-10 start entering a pair of Tuesday matches against Loganville and George Walton Academy at LHS.
“It’s been a tough start to the season, record-wise, but I don’t think that record really tells the story,” Stover added. “There haven’t really been any blowouts, but the schedule we’ve played has been very strong. We’ve lost twice each to Athens Academy and Morgan County, which are very strong teams, and Apalachee, who has traditionally been a powerhouse. We’ve played these teams really well and had a chance to win some more games. I think some of (the struggles are) just some nervous errors from our young players getting in the way.”
The Bulldoggs navigated a difficult schedule last fall and finished 29-18, but they were hampered by a string of late-season injuries that led to them being upset early in the GHSA Region 8-AAAAAA tournament and missing the state playoffs for the first time since 2013. Winder-Barrow is hoping to get back to the playoffs this year, but will need to find a way to replace the offensive production of graduated hitters Kori Estes and Payton Mitchell. And already, the team is down a senior hitter in Chelsea Duncan, who Stover said is dealing with a potentially season-ending injury she suffered in the first match of the year.
The team should continue to get a lift from senior co-captain and setter Macie Zakroczynski (468 assists, 102 digs, 24 blocks and an 87.7 serving percentage a year ago), while seniors Sofia Vaca and Alina Mua return on the back line. Junior co-captain Hailey Kirkman and junior Shelby Pillow also provide varsity experience, while Stover said a group of sophomores is continuing to improve offensively.
“They’re kind of getting into the groove now,” Stover said. “And whereas early on our hitting percentage was a negative, it’s turning into a positive and the stats show we’re getting better at it. They’re getting more comfortable with the speed of the game at this level, and we feel like maybe our schedule is not as brutal the rest of the way as it has been so far.”
Winder-Barrow was limited in some of its typical summer preparations due to the coronavirus pandemic and subsequent precautions — missing, for instance, the annual Barrow Bash summer invitational which traditionally has given the team a chance to get in numerous scrimmages against other opponents. Once we got going, we were feeling good. We had done everything we could to prepare; we just needed that live action to get the younger players going. If we had that, maybe we would have seen some different results early on this season.
“But we see the improvement happening every day and the team coming along, and the girls are having a good time out there. I don’t think there’s been a downcast mood among them about our record. They seem to be energetic and hungry to pick up some wins.”