The more things change, the more they stay the same for the Newark varsity girls volleyball program.
More than half of the starting lineup graduated after the 2012 season, but the Lady Norsemen have not missed a beat.
They won the Little Ten Conference tournament, and have already clinched the regular-season conference championship.
With a win Wednesday over Indian Creek, the Lady Norsemen completed their fourth straight perfect season in the LTC.
Senior Kristina Nichols, who is the lone current Newark player who made the All-Conference team in 2012, is already looking forward to the Class 1A postseason. Newark was eliminated in the sectional semifinal last season by eventual state champion Keith Country Day.
Q. With the seniors you guys graduated after last season, the spotlight has been on you a little more. How do you feel you have responded so far?
A. So far, I feel as if I have done a pretty good job. I have taken these girls under my wings and created a second family with them.
I care more about the relationships I make than the stats I put in the books night to night.
I have a lot of expectations put on me as a player as well, and it’s safe to say I would not be as successful as I have been if it weren’t for my faith and family.
I go out there, play volleyball, have fun and make memories.
Q. Are you someone who likes to be the focal point of the offense or maybe aims for a certain number of kills, or does that not matter to you?
A. Offense is absolutely one thing that I cannot wait to step out on the court and go hard at.
That’s a given.
But that’s not what I aim to be. My personal goal is to be the best all-around player that I can possibly be.
There’s nothing greater than that feeling of hitting the ball just right and earning a point for the team, but dog-hard defense is something I strive to add into a game every night as well.
Q. How have other players filled in around you to compensate for the players that were lost?
A. I love these girls so much and I am so proud of each and every one of them for what they’ve brought to this team.
These girls have stepped up in all the right ways and more. They bring a passion for the game to the court, along with a energetic, crazy attitude that I am so happy to be a part of. They are the greatest encouragers a team could ask for, and I am so blessed to be a leader of that team.
Q. Obviously Newark having success in the Little Ten Conference is nothing new. Is it something you almost take for granted at this point?
A. Being honest, definitely.
We have a tendency to sometimes think of ourselves as the best in the conference because we are Newark.
Putting on that jersey doesn’t give us those talents, though.
We have to work hard in the gym day to day to earn the spot we have pushed so hard for.
As a program, we have to keep in mind that any team can step in, being the underdog, and win a game while a team at the top can come in and play the worst game ever.
Just because we are Newark doesn’t mean we are invincible to the rest of our conference.
It just means we are willing and committed to putting in the time and effort to come out on top, year in and year out.
Q. Do you or does the team ever step back and appreciate the winning streaks you’ve had in the conference?
A. We do – not as often as we should, though. We have a lot to be proud of as a volleyball program, and we just get so caught up in the games we are in currently to the point where we forget to realize how far we have come.
It is truly a blessing that God placed me in Newark with the coaches I have and the amazing girls, too.
Q. To you, what separates Newark, and allows the program to have the kind of success it does despite being a public school with a small enrollment?
A. Newark is a very unique kind of school. Our student body of 180 consists of people with hundreds of different kinds of personalities and interests.
Something that sets us apart, though, is that, as a program, we can adapt and love on everybody’s way of life and make a family out of it.
Nobody will understand how many times I thank God for the family I have within those walls at Newark High.
The bond and partnership we create as a team is what fuels us into winning games.
If it weren’t for our friendships we create, we would just be a team, not a family.
Q. How much of your time is consumed by volleyball, both during the high school season and during the offseason?
A. During season, I would say 95 percent of my time is dedicated to being in the gym with my girls and out on the road with them, too.
During the offseason, I would say about 75 percent. I stay active in clubs and leagues a few nights a week still.
I run some camps at the YMCA, too, teaching other children the game.
Volleyball is one of my top priorities, and it’s one you’ll never find me complaining about.
Q. If you could pick one specific way that your game has changed most since you first entered high school, what is it?
A. I would have to say that my aggressiveness as an athlete has grown immensely.
Coming in my freshmen year, I was so timid and scared of what the ball might do to me. As I’m playing through my senior year, I hammer down on every ball I can and get joy out of that.
You will never see me be that shy, timid athlete again. Being aggressive is more fun anyway.
Q. Newark is in a regional at a familiar site, and you can’t meet Keith Country Day until the super-sectional. Were you happy with the draw your team got?
A. Absolutely. Words cannot describe how stoked I am for postseason.
This whole set-up is going to benefit us in the long run.
Practices have already been focused on postseason, and we have brought in our assistant coaches to hit at us to prepare us for what we will see.
God placed us in this spot for a reason, and time will tell us what that reason is.
Q. What is the biggest key for a successful postseason run for Newark?
A. I believe the biggest key is hard work and determination.
It’s easy for us to drag nonvolleyball issues on to the court, but those are things we need to put to rest as soon as we step into the gym.
We need to treat every practice as if it’s our last and every scrimmage as if it’s the biggest game of our careers.
If we stay focused and work hard as individuals, we will play our best.
If we do that as a team, we will be dominant.
It’s time to rise above the expectations and get our program further than most think possible this postseason.