Sometimes success doesn’t just show up in the win column.
Whitman-Hanson Regional High girls’ volleyball, despite finishing the season with a 4-17 record, made significant strides this year.
W-H came into the year with a tall task – trying to make up for the production it lost via the departure of a seven-player senior class – headlined by captains Jordyn Keith, Sophie O’Brien and Chloe Roberts – who played an integral part in helping the program reach the tournament in back-to-back seasons.
With that many seniors on the roster last season, that meant playing time for the younger players was scarce. Four players who would turn into regulars on the court this fall had little to no experience as the varsity rank.
Junior Allison Hanlon, and sophomores Olivia Martin and Ella Sweeney were all previously penned on the JV roster. Sophomore Alexis Connolly had just 15 sets of varsity experience under her belt.
This season, Sweeney was in action for 74 sets, which was tied for the second-most on the team, as Hanlon and Martin played 66 and 59, respectively. Connolly saw her time on the court rise to 52 sets.
The growing pains, however, were evident, as the Panthers went nearly a month without a single win. But, they never lost faith.
“We were able to stay up despite how many losses we took,” first-year Panthers head coach Ashley Balbian said. “But, I think the team really worked together. The chemistry between the girls, especially between the really young girls and the seniors, I think that was definitely our strength in just trying to keep the energy up, fight for every point.”
After a loss to Quincy on Oct. 25 dropped W-H to 2-17 with senior night against Middleboro in less than 24 hours, Balbian said there was an instant shift in the mentality of her squad.
“I think a lot of what changed is kind of a change in our mindset about seniors thinking like this is our last two games we’re going to put it all out there,” she said. “Then for the underclassmen to come in and think, look we want to do this for the seniors. [We’re] putting our effort in for the seniors the last two games, but also realizing we’re it next year, this is it, so we have to step it up.”
After celebrating the storied careers of their seniors, the Panthers downed the Sachems in four sets, 3-1. Senior Halle Julian led the club with 18 kills and classmate Tori Perry shined with 40 assists. Two days later, they finished off Bridgewater-Raynham in another four-set affair, 3-1.
The recent success left Balbian thinking a few things. “I wish we had five more games,” she said. “I had felt we finally hit a lot of the goals we were working towards all season, and then just as we hit that stride the season [is]over.”
But, there is no denying that finishing your campaign on a two-game winning streak must build some assurance about the future.
“It was huge boost in confidence, especially for the girls that are younger on the team and were getting more time on the court, and they feel a little more prepared coming in with the seniors leaving next year,” Balbian said.
As they look ahead to next season, the Panthers will be tasked with replacing the leadership and production from departing seniors Madison Adams, Amanda Anderson, Cathryn Johnson, Julian and Perry, all of whom left their stamp on the program, according to Balbian.
“I think that they have left such an impression on the younger players, like really kept a high standard on the team,” Balbian said.
For W-H, despite the struggles, the team should come into its own in the not so distant future.
“A lot of them came into new positions, especially towards the second half of the season,” Balbian said. “They kind of found what works for them. Maybe they decided I want to be a libero or I want to be a setter or I want to play front row, and they kind of found where they fit on the court. It makes me already excited for tryouts next season.”