As Holly Berndt prepares her players for the volleyball season, she expects her seventh year to be much different from the first, when Wayne won only one match. There will be no more rebuilding.
“I hate to lose,” Berndt says.
Last fall, the team finished 10-15, but was competitive in almost all of their matches. Berndt has put an emphasis on mental preparation. She would like the girls’ to shed their self-image of their team as an underdog. At some point this can serve an athlete as motivation, but after seeing her team take early leads last year and not finish, Berndt wants them to find their killer instinct. She is teaching them to maintain intensity. And to get comfortable winning.
Along with this mental preparation, the girls themselves have taken care of Berndt’s other emphasis—off-season physical preparation. “The players we have are really hard workers,” she says. “Once a week during the summer we have open gym. I never had to ask them to come in—they were just there.”
Three years ago, Berndt and softball coach Heather Fortune started the Wayne Athletic Leadership Council. The two coaches knew it would be difficult at first for the girls, especially mentally, because the results would not be immediate. They assigned extra workouts for girls out for sports, and in turn, the girls pushed each other to keep practicing and to put in the extra time. Many softball players also play volleyball. So they’ve seen success and the effort it takes.
Berndt singles out former student-athlete Casara Willey as an example of her kind of player. Willey was used sparingly her junior year. Then she worked hard in the off-season and became not only a starter but also an all-conference hitter her senior season.
But Berndt’s competitive nature is tempered by her understanding of individual player needs. That comes first. “The best part of [being a coach] is seeing that the girls really get it, and as both a teacher and a coach to build close relationships.” She wants them to understand and appreciate the game. There is also a difference in attitudes related to gender, she admits.
“You have to coach to win the game. But you have to maintain their confidence in you. Communication is important. Sometimes you have to put the girls first.”
This relates to mental game preparation. “I say, ‘push it to the deep corner.’ Sometimes the girls ask why? It makes better players when they understand. I’ve emphasized knowing the purpose of a certain strategy.”
As far as her in-game philosophy, Berndt employs a 6-2 offense with two setters on the court—tall players to set the ball and then get ready for a kill. She has also taken advantage of the relatively knew rule allowing a defense-only ‘libero.’ Scotlan Bunnell was first-team all-conference last year and holds the school record for digs. Liberos can’t play the front row, and must wear a different colored jersey. They do not count against substitutions.
Berndt has four returning starters. Breanna Fortune was second-team all-conference as a junior. This will be her fourth year as a starter. Berndt says Fortune is smart and gets the ‘why.’ Mandie Gassman is the team’s best hitter and is an excellent blocker. Makayla Andrews, according to Berndt, “Does whatever you ask of her. She’s a good senior leader.” And Gabrielle Buban is strong, a good hitter that will move in to replace Willey’s spot. There are four or five other girls with potential to fight it out and emerge this year, as well.
The hardest match this fall will be the first, against East Union, state qualifier two out of the last three years. Last season, Wayne won their own tournament for the first time. This year, Berndt’s goal is to repeat and to get farther in the regionals. And to shed the label of underdog.