By Garth Shanklin
The Milford Lady Eagles volleyball team enjoyed a successful run in 2015. The squad won 16 of their 23 games, and posted a 9-5 record in the Eastern Cincinnati Conference along the way. A loss to Sycamore in the opening-round of the sectional tournament ended the Lady Eagles season, but it was a step forward for a team who had lost double-digit games the year before.
This year’s team is taking a different approach to the action on the court. New head coach Melissa Downs, who coached the eighth grade team for Milford in 2015, takes over the varsity squad this season. She acknowledged last year’s team was talented, but added the 2016 squad will have a different, more determined feel.
“They were very talented,” Downs said. “This year, I feel like the difference for us is that we’re going to be playing with a lot of determination. We’re going to be relentless getting to the ball. Nothing will hit our floor.”
Determination and relentlessness are not the only themes to Milford volleyball in 2016. Downs said she believes in a family-first attitude, one that reaches as far down as the seventh-grade level.
“We’re really preaching family here,” Downs said. “We want to be a family, from my seventh graders all the way up. We want to be a family, and family takes care of each other. We pick each other up when we’re down and we just want to be completely positive and help each other reach our goals.”
One player who does just that is senior outside hitter/setter Suzy Bullock. According to Downs, the entire team can look to their senior leader for a pick-me-up when the mood is down.
“When we’re really focused on something and we need someone to make us smile or someone that can lighten the mood for us if we’re stressing out about a drill or something, that is Suzy,” Downs said. “She comes in and says, ‘We’re fine. Come on guys, let’s breathe.’ With the way we practice, we go very hard all day. She’s got that smile that makes everyone say, ‘You’re right Suzy, we’re good.’”
Younger players can have leadership roles as well, and Downs believes sophomore Erica Sharp can lead by example with her play on the court.
“I have two sophomores on the varsity squad right now,” Downs said. “I expect one of them, Erica Sharp, to come up and show a lot of leadership through her play. She’s going to be a very tough competitor. When she steps on that court, she is all business. She’s focused and ready to get her job done. I expect to see that light the fire under everyone else.”
Another thing Downs noticed about the Lady Eagles is their love of the game of volleyball, something she acknowledged was extremely important and fit in well with the team’s go-hard attitude.
“They’re a great group of girls,” Downs said. “They’re high-energy and you can tell they really love to play volleyball. In order to play this game, you really have to love the game to go as hard as they go. We have a lot of juniors, and they are already showing great leadership and focusing on what we need to get done.”
The Lady Eagles will pay a visit to Talawanda on Aug. 20 at noon to open the 2016 regular-season. After a road rematch with Sycamore at 6 p.m. on Aug. 23, Milford will host the Amelia Lady Barons on Aug. 27 at 7 p.m. for their home-opening match.