BY ED WRIGHT
Aug. 23, 2010, 9:15 p.m.
To say Plymouth freshman setter Shayla Smalls is thought of with high regard by her veteran teammates is an understatement.
"It's like the volleyball gods smiled down on us and dropped her in our gym," said senior captain Kayla Bridge, referring to Smalls.
"She has the fastest hands I've ever seen," added co-captain Mariah Tesarz.
It's not often a freshman hits the high school scene and works her way into the starting line-up - especially at the all-important position of setter.
But Smalls is that good.
"Shayla's been almost flawless, which is remarkable," said Plymouth coach Kelly McCausland. "Like most freshmen, she's kind of quiet, but she's learning how to become more vocal out on the court.
"After losing our four-year starting setter (Katie Salo) to graduation, the timing is perfect to have a freshman come in like Shayla has."
The Wildcats had a good thing going even before Smalls made her sudden impact on the program. Blessed with several returning standouts from the 2009 squad, the 'Cats should be a season-long contender for the KLAA South Division title.
"I like the way this team is jelling already," said McCausland. "We have competition at every spot, so the girls are pushing each other every day. It seems like everyone is an all-around player, too, so they're battling every day for a position.
"Offensively, we have a ton of power. We just need to get the ball in the right spot to take advantage of it."
McCausland's No. 1 concern hasn't changed from last year - or from the previous eight years, for that matter.
"Every season my biggest concern in serve-reception," she said. "We work on it so much, but as we all know, if a team can't serve-receive, it's not going to be able to get into its offense. For a team that prides itself on its offensive strength like we do, it's so important to serve-receive well."
The Wildcats' five-player senior class is super-strong, led by hard-hitters Bridge and Danielle Risi; middle hitter Alex Roberts; libero Tesarz and defensive specialist Laura Schmid.
A pair of sophomores - Emilee Beyer and Madelyn Betts - have earned starting nods.
"Having sophomores step in like have is huge," said McCausland. "They're two of our more vocal players as well."
Also playing key roles for the Wildcats this fall will be juniors Rachael Hille (middle hitter/right side), Lindsay Stemberger (defensive specialist/outside hitter), Tayler Pastor (defensive specialist/ outside hitter) and Jessica Scott, who can set along with playing right side and middle hitter.
"I like how everyone is putting forth a ton of effort," said Bridge. "And that we're really solid all around the court."
"We're all competitive and we try to make our teammates better every day of practice," Tesarz said.
To check out the Wildcats' 2010 schedule, CLICK HERE.
Ed Wright can be reached at (734) 453-1980 or firstname.lastname@example.org.