PREP VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: GETTING BETTER: Elizabethtown trio got out of comfort zones over the summer

Elizabethtown’s will be led this year by, from left, sophomore outside hitter M.E. Hargan, senior middle hitter and setter Sydney Clark and junior outside hitter Elizabeth Godfrey.

As important as the high school season is, what an athlete does during the summer means a great deal.

Elizabethtown’s Sydney Clark, Elizabeth Godfrey and M.E. Hargan got out of their comfort zones on the volleyball courts they love.

And all did so differently.

The 6-foot Clark was a setter for Dan Palmer at MAVA.

“We played a lot of games and my setting has improved a lot,” Clark said. “My hands are much better and I have a better knowledge of the game after playing all summer at a high level. It was really different. I’m used to hitting the ball. I had to feed it instead of hitting it. I have a different perspective of the game now.”

The 5-9 Godfrey, a teammate with Clark, was the libero.

“That was a crazy change,” Godfrey said. “I’ve set before and obviously hit, but I’ve never specifically played back row. It was a big change. It really took a lot for me to focus on that to get a good pass for Sydney so we could win some games. Since I’m used to putting the ball down and scoring points, I had to change my mindset to not letting the other team do that.

“Every time I would shank a ball I would get super upset because I wanted to be the one to make people shank the ball. So whenever I did it, it was ‘Shoot, they got a point.’ I can’t be the one to let them do that. I was fighting that and fighting being the one to get every ball up.”

Being a libero also means being targeted on serve receive by the opposing team.

“That was definitely a lot of pressure where some coaches would do that,” Godfrey said. “They would try to psyche you out so once you missed a couple (passes) in a row, they would target you the rest of the game. You had to have a strong mindset and be mentally tough to fight that. There were other games where they wouldn’t serve you at all and you would hardly touch the ball. You had to keep being positive and not let that get to you. You have to stay mentally tough.”

The 5-10 Hargan found a new side of herself playing at MAVA for former Louisville player Jasmine Bennett, who earned All-ACC Second Team honors from her middle blocker position.

“Last year I was just a freshman and I got scared a lot,” said Hargan, who also played middle back, which was new to her. “This year it’s a little better because I played club, too — one year lower than them — and Jasmine helped me. She pushed and she yelled at me a lot.”

Catlett said he’s impressed with the trio in their dedication and willingness to be different players to improve their games.

“They’re important pieces for us,” he said. “For M.E., a sophomore, her skill-level us super high. She can set. She can play libero if I needed her to. She can hit outside. She can hit middle and Elizabeth’s the same way. Elizabeth spent the summer playing libero in club and played open all year, but she hits outside for me. And she can set.

“We used Sydney primarily last year as a setter and middle blocker, but she might be my best outside hitter. She really gets the ball high and hits it hard. She’s added in some other parts of her game, like a jump serve. The progression in all three of those kids from last year to this year ... I’m amazed and I’m proud of them. Three nights a week they were in Louisville working out. They’ve put in a lot of hard work.

“Sydney last year was pretty good. But coming into this year, with the amount of work and the way she’s changed her body structure, I’m just really excited for her and I’m proud of her. You don’t know if kids have that commitment to be able to go 4-5 nights a week for six months, training, and I didn’t know if she had it in her. But she went after it 100 miles an hour and just worked her butt off.”

Catlett saw a different side of Hargan as Bennett continually pushed her.

“I just have to not break down anymore,” Hargan admitted. “Jasmine tried to help me realize that even when I make mistakes, it’s not that big of a deal because it’s just one point or two points out of 25.”

Clark and Godfrey were also pushed on their club team.

“We definitely played a lot of games and we improved a lot,” Godfrey said. “Our coach was really hard on us. He wanted us to come in for extra time on weekends. Because of the drive from E’town to Louisville it was kind of difficult. But we both tried to get up there as much as we could to improve our game and our knowledge of volleyball and our IQ.”

They now prepare for a high school season in which many eyes are on Elizabethtown.

“In basketball that’s always happens because everyone wants to beat us,” Clark said. “Everybody’s always wanted to beat us because we have E’town on our jersey. It pushes us and it helps us.

“We always come into practice really hard. Communication is the key. That’s what we’re working on a lot. We’re better with communication. We’re a good group with great chemistry, so it will be a fun year. It (going to State) is going to be talked about, but we’re gonna play one game at a time and see how far we get.”

Godfrey agreed.

“Communication is really important to us and that’s what we’ve been focusing on a lot in practice,” Godfrey said. “We’re keeping a positive mindset and knowing ultimately what the end goal is, but taking it one day at a time, trying to focus on getting better each day at practice. In practice, we’re our own competition, so we want to push each other to get better, so out on the court that reflects what we’ve been doing in practice.”

Hargan said she feels “a lot more comfortable. Last year I did not talk at all. This year I’m talking a little bit more. I’m getting there.”

Catlett knows there are expectations outside the locker room.

“Right now my biggest thing is to make sure we’re focused and that we’re working hard,” he said. “We’re implementing some new things, but we’re really back to old-school basics, focusing on first contact, whether that be serve or serve receive.

“I was at a couple camps over the summer where I got to work with some college kids and I would ask them, ‘What do you do at practice.’ It would be a UK player or a Georgetown player and they would say, ‘80-to-90 percent serve receive and defense’ and the rest of the time the coach does other stuff with the offense. That’s roughly 75 percent of our practice. I was glad to hear that because it made me feel like I was doing the right thing, trying to take care of that first contact.

“Our girls are really working hard.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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