Herron returns veteran volleyball squad

Shoes to fill The 2010 Washburn Lady Blues volleyball team has high expectations despite losing All-American setter Kate Hampson to graduation. Head coach Chris Herron said the squad’s biggest challenge will be finding someone to replace her leadership abilities.

Josh Rouse

The No. 6 Lady Blues volleyball team returns all but one player from a team that went 33-5 in 2009. However, the player the team lost is one of the most successful in Washburn history.

Head coach Chris Herron knows setter Kate Hampson, Washburn’s all-time assists leader with 5,897 (second most in MIAA history), will be tough to replace. Redshirt-freshman Abby Whitman and junior Amanda Guess are available to fill Hampson’s spot on the court.

“We lost an All-American setter,” said Herron. “We lost not just her abilities in that regard, but we lost her leadership skills, too. That’s pretty big. Even though we are a veteran group experience-wise, we have to find a kid that can replace Kate’s leadership skills.”

Whitman, who redshirted last year in an effort to keep the setters two years apart from an eligibility standpoint, comes in with the opportunity to play a lot of minutes, said Herron. While Guess is the more experienced of the two setters, Whitman is a proven winner after accumulating a 149-10 career record at Sacred Heart High School in Salina.

“It’s far too early in the ballgame to say who’s what and where, but right now Abby Whitman is a kid who’s going to play a lot,” said Herron. “She’ll play a great deal for us. Other than that, the other five, it’s the first day of practice and we don’t have any idea yet.”

Herron stressed the depth of the squad, which improved with the addition of the six freshmen, and said essentially he wanted the players to be interchangeable on the court.

“If somebody goes down, then we feel like that next kid we put in will do just as well,” said Herron. “That’s just kind of the mindset we have at Washburn.”

The Blues are no strangers to health concerns. Senior outside hitter Ashley Shepard, who tore her ACL during the spring, is currently rehabbing her knee in hopes of seeing playing time in 2010. Junior rightside hitter Breanna Lewis is another player Herron said could have a huge year if she manages to stay healthy.

“My philosophy is I can’t worry about what I don’t have, I’m going to worry about what I have,” said Herron. “I just coach what’s in the gym. If they’re not there, then they’re not there.”

While the Blues lost a two-time All-American in Hampson, they return another All-American in junior hitter Mollie Lacy. Lacy led the MIAA in 2009 with a .405 attack percentage, which set a single-season school record, and led the team with 380 kills.

“I don’t want to say we expect somebody to be an All-American, but that’s kind of happened for us the last few years,” said Herron. “One of the things you don’t ever want to do is take those things for granted, because that stuff doesn’t happen just because, but we feel like there’s several kids in here that could fit into that category, could be All-Americans.”

Much of Herron’s success at Washburn has been because of the depth of the roster, something he said wasn’t the case when he first arrived on campus eight years ago. He credits this to hard work on the recruiting trail.

“It’s a lot of hard work,” said Herron. “Nobody really understands—recruiting is a never-ending process. We already have three verbal commitments for 2011, and we’ve already had visits for 2012. It’s just a process that’s ongoing, and it’s something that I, as the head coach, have to stay on top of.”

Herron added that on Thursday, he would be driving to Olathe to watch a practice between his own practices.

“If you don’t stay ahead of recruiting, the only thing you’re going to be doing is looking up the ladder at peoples rear-ends because they’ll have passed you,” said Herron.

The coaches around the league apparently don’t think they’ve passed Herron yet, as the Blues were picked second in the 2010 MIAA Preseason Coaches Poll. However, Herron understands he can’t take success for granted.

“I think in the MIAA there’s such a dogfight every single night with six teams ranked in the top 25 pretty much every single year, you either come ready or you get smacked around.”