Ford City volleyball has plenty of room to grow
As Ford City boys volleyball coach Casey Cousins distributed uniforms two weeks ago, he marveled at how many jersey numbers he marked down on his clipboard.
Just days earlier, Cousins counted the number of players at practice on one hand and doubted the team's viability.
A group of slightly more than a dozen eager-to-learn players emerged in mid-March and allowed Ford City to field a full lineup. Now the Sabers, severely lacking in experience, aim to scratch their way into a fourth consecutive playoff berth.
“It was kind of tough trying to get guys to come out,” said senior Doug Purrington, one of the team's three returning players. “Everybody that's here we basically recruited. By ‘we,' I mean me, Jeff (Morhac) and Cameron (Beal) and one or two people we already had.
“I think we can work with this team. It's going to be a fun experience.”
A shaky start came as no surprise to Cousins, who coached Elderton the past two seasons and replaced Gregg Hedglin, who resigned during the offseason. When Cousins learned Ford City had an open coaching position and West Shamokin would absorb Elderton's program last spring, he debated which position to pursue.
West Shamokin represented the more attractive destination, but Cousins viewed that as a reason to consider Ford City, which graduated its entire starting lineup.
“I knew that if I didn't take that (West Shamokin) job, there'd be a good coach out there in (former assistant) Scott Craig,” Cousins said. “I wasn't sure what else would be available here if I didn't take the job. So I thought the best thing we could do was divide our talents and make sure that both programs are looked after.”
Cousins, an eighth-grade history teacher at Ford City, will lean on Purrington as well as sophomores Morhac and Beal for on-floor leadership.
Promising newcomers to the sport include senior David Kutsch and junior Dakota Fickes. But the talent remains raw. Skills such as passing and hitting — things Cousins took for granted at Elderton — are slow to develop.
“I was spoiled because at Elderton most of the kids had played before, and with Andrea (Lasher) being my assistant, she was awesome with that building block kind of stuff where I never really had to do that,” Cousins said. “So I found myself scratching my head (earlier this season) like, ‘I don't even know where to begin.' That's the toughest part. ... We'll get there, though.”
As Purrington pointed out, Ford City finished 3-7 in section play to tie St. Joseph for fourth place, so the Sabers hardly need a dominant run to return to the postseason.
Deer Lakes and Derry, both WPIAL semifinalists last season, remain the cream of the Section 2-AA crop, and West Shamokin is a perennial playoff qualifier.
So the last spot again should come down to Ford City, St. Joseph and Summit Academy.
“We've got a really top- and bottom-heavy section,” Cousins said. “The games that we should be in, I'm hoping we'll be in. And the games that are against those top-tier teams, I'm just hoping to look like a volleyball team and get something out of it.
“Even if we can just get some guys to come watch us and see us having fun, that'll help build the program for future years.”