After getting off to the best start in Tuscarora High School girls volleyball history, the Titans’ first loss stung senior captain Asia Whitney.
The loss came to Oakdale after 10 wins, and it came in five sets with the fifth going into extra points, 17-15. But losing to Oakdale, which has some of the top players in area, showed Whitney that the Titans couldn’t rest on what happened earlier in the season if they wanted to make a deep run in the playoffs.
“I was like, ‘Now we really need to kick it into high gear to be that top team like we want to be,’” she said.
The loss propelled Tuscarora — which is the 3A West Region No. 1 seed for the first time in school history — to three regular-season wins to end the year. It beat Watkins Mill, 3-0, Monday in the regional quarterfinals.
It took a little while for the Titans, 13-1 as of Tuesday, to adjust to its rotation.
Three freshmen — Ysabel Weaver, Rebekah Hanshaw and Madeline Roat — were vying for playing time in a lineup that included seniors Katie Stouffer and Erika DeSalvio, along with Whitney. While there was an adjustment period, it didn’t last too long.
“It was a little tough in the beginning just to start trusting everyone and finding out different mannerisms and everything because you have to know your team inside and out,” said Stouffer, the Titans’ kills leader. “But I’ve been impressed. They’ve picked it up pretty well. I was a little hard on them in the beginning, but they’ve gotten used to me and they’ve improved a lot. I’m very impressed.”
No freshman has been more important than Weaver, Tuscarora’s setter.
But Stouffer and DeSalvio both said adjusting to Weaver was easy.
“We’ve been getting pretty consistent,” Stouffer said. “She does some nice, quick sets. She’s improving so much and I’m very proud of her.”
It was important for Stouffer and Weaver to get comfortable quickly. Stouffer is unmistakably the Titans’ most dangerous offensive threat, wielding a dangerous hit from the outside. But she is more than an offensive player and can also play the back row.
Stouffer, whose voice can also be heard echoing around the gym during matches, rarely leaves the floor. That was never more obvious than during the loss to Oakdale when she led the Titans in kills (19) and digs (31).
“Katie brings energy,” second-year coach Ricardo Vera said. “She brings a tremendous amount of energy and skill. She has so much drive.”
Stouffer thinks much of the team’s success stems from its practice routine. This year they’ve used more team drills instead of individual drills, which she believes has translated to the games. Now, when the games matter most, the Titans will have to continue to rely on that unity as they make a push for a championship.
“We’ve been taking it game by game and not looking too far into the future,” she said. “Our ultimate goal is to win states and we’re going to try as hard as we can to.”