Columbia volleyball is coming off a 10-17 season and is looking to make it back to the playoffs for the first time since 2015 despite having winning records in district play the last three seasons.
The Wildcats missed out on the postseason by one game last season for the third year in a row, and Fitzgerald said they will need to limit self-imposed errors to rectify last year’s disappointment.
“We need to be a little bit more consistent with ball handling. That would be the next step we really need to take,” he said.
Columbia graduated two seniors, Michelle Martin and Lauren Hill, that played big roles in 2018, and underclassmen Kennedy Newsom and Patrice Oatis are expected to replace them in the middle, according to Fitzgerald. They will be joined by the senior quartet of Abby Morris, Janyia Willis, Elisha Brown and Kaitlyn Fitzgerald in the starting lineup.
Fitzgerald said Newsom has taken several steps forward in her development and shined during a summer tournament when Columbia needed her most.
“We had an injury happen in the tournaments on the Coast, and she actually came in and filled in in the middle position and did an excellent job on the second day we played,” he said. “She’s really beginning to improve her ball handling and her serves.”
Among returners Morris led the way in kills, aces and blocks, but she hasn’t been able to practice with the team as much this summer because she’s serving as Marion County’s Distinguished Young Woman. After competing for the state title in Meridian this week, Morris will rejoin the team.
While reaching the playoffs is a goal for Columbia, the Wildcats’ early objective has been about taking minor steps forward.
“Our main goal has been to build team chemistry. My four seniors have been very good about doing that, especially with our Coast trip. They have been the ones behind the scenes encouraging people to come to practice during the summer,” Fitzgerald said. “We’ve been having open gyms where it’s not a scheduled practice, and whoever shows up shows up and play volleyball.”
Fitzgerald said the Wildcats have averaged 10 to 12 players participate in open gym practices during the summer.
The Wildcats will host their annual Columbia Classic Aug. 10 to begin their season, with East Marion, West Marion, Salem and Sacred Heart competing.
Pictured Above: Columbia senior Kaitlyn Fitzgerald serves the ball against Sacred Heart in October 2018. Fitzgerald is expected to be one of four senior starters for the Wildcats in 2019. | Photo by Joshua Campbell