North Pocono girls look to take that crucial "next step"

Since before the school year let out in June, the North Pocono girls’ volleyball team has been meeting up, sometimes three times a week, for informal conditioning and skill building sessions in the middle school gym.

Although the official start of the pre-season doesn’t begin until next week, determined to improve upon their record from last season, the Lady Trojans have been hard at it all summer.

Looking Back

Armed with just three senior players, only two of which were returning starters, the North Pocono ladies had a challenging season in 2016.

A 9-8 tally might seem like a solid record to most squads, especially considering the relative youthfulness of the team.

However, given the legacy of the Trojans program, missing the mark for entry into the PIAA District II/IV championship tournament was a bitter pill to swallow.

“We ran with a lot of the teams we faced last fall,” said Head Coach Jim Kramer, returning for his third season at the helm.

“Some of our losses came during a fifth game and some were very close. Another two or three wins and we would have made the playoffs. We’re shooting to be 12-5 this year.”

Four of last season’s sophomores, on and off, found themselves starting matches.

At any given time, typically there were at least two of them on the court.

The juniors had a small luxury in the fact that there were still a trio of seniors from which they could learn leadership, but most had to battle with the nervousness of being first year starters.

Thankfully, Kramer feels, that is water under the bridge.

Ready to Go

“The seniors are confident,” Kramer stated, “Maddie Hughes has been a starter for three years and will undoubtedly be one of our key players.”

Returning a lot of experienced players will hopefully be a key factor for the Lady Trojans. Kramer noted that the team is passing much better than it did last year and that they have a number of strong servers, among which are Kelsey Kline, Ava Craig, and Lilly Thompson.

“We know what things will be like,” said Thompson, a junior and returning starter. “We also have more juniors coming up this year so it will be fun to play with others from in my class.”

“Coming back this year we know what we’re doing, last year we spent a lot of time trying to figure things out,” said Megan Morman, a returning senior.

“We have the knowledge to help out the younger kids coming up as well. It might not be perfect, but we’re going to have a good season.”

Team Building

“We were young last year,” said Kline, one of the returning juniors. “It was hard but that helped us get closer as a team.”

Getting familiar with everyone has been the name of the game over the past eight weeks or so for these ladies. Kramer, as well as the veteran players are excited about the healthy crop of newcomers that have been coming to the conditioning sessions.

“There’s been about twenty freshmen attending,” said the coach. “It’s a very athletic group, many play multiple sports and the three tallest girls that are going to try out for the team this year are ninth graders.”

Morman echoed Coach Kramer’s remarks, “We have a good group of new kids this year. They are very enthusiastic and not reserved.

“They are very dedicated to volleyball and have been working hard every time we meet.”

Up Ahead

“It’s exciting to be back with my friends,” said senior Ashley Darrow.

“We have a good core of players and we’re looking forward to a good season.”

The Lady Trojans kick things off with a pair of home scrimmages where they will face seven teams in 20-minute sets on both occasions. The first of these round-robin matches will be on August 19 and the second, on August 26.

Both will be held at the North Pocono High School with the first games starting at 9 a.m. and going until about 3:30 p.m.

They start Wyoming Valley Conference play at MMI in Freeland on Friday, Sept. 1, then welcome Coughlin for their home opener on Tuesday, Sept. 5.

The Lady Trojans travel to Meyers on Sept. 8 and then host Hazleton on Sept. 12.

Their first major challenge will come on Sept. 14 when Crestwood visits. The Lady Comets went 15-2 last fall, placing third in the conference.

This year North Pocono will face perennial powerhouse Holy Redeemer on Sept. 21, the always tough Nanticoke squad on Sept. 25, and last year’s undefeated league champions, Delaware Valley, on Oct. 12.

Each of those games will be away, so devoted Trojans fans will have to make ready for road trips.

“It’s going to be an exciting season,” said senior Mikayla Haikes. “We have a lot of experienced girls and should have a lot of good games.”