Woodrow Wilson volleyball head coach Bre Rhodes doesn’t get to uptight about wins and losses for her team in early September.
Rhodes’ main goal is to have her team ready for the postseason in November.
“I have learned in my few years that September is to work out all of the kinks. We normally go through different rotations,” Rhodes said. “This year we only had to go through one rotation change which has been nice. I have had years where I have had to change it every other week if something was not working out. I mainly use September to work out the kinks and find everybody’s sweet spots.”
Finding the right fit fer her players happened a little quicker this year thanks in large part to the players themselves.
“It kind of goes back to the beginning when I said was excited about this group. I knew that they had already bonded as a team playing club (ball). That helped a lot in the beginning not having to work on team bonding and they get along well on and off the court,” Rhodes explained. “September was a little rough, but from the middle of September through October, it has been fun.”
A big tournament win at Huntington ignited the fire for Woodrow Wilson and after Rhodes made sure everyone understood the team goal, the Flying Eagles started to pick up steam.
“We won the Huntington tournament at the end of September and that got everybody excited. Then we came back and had a heart-to-heart,” Rhodes said. “We haven’t had much drama, but we wanted to be sure everyone was on the same page. We wanted to be sure everybody’s heads were going the same way and focused on the team.”
A week prior to sectionals the Flying Eagles went to Parkersburg and dominated the day, beating Hurricane, Hedgesville and Huntington, along with the host team in the championship round.
Woodrow Wilson has now carried that momentum into the postseason to win the AAA Region 3, Section 2 title, along with the overall Region 3 crown for the second year in a row.
So far in the postseason, the Flying Eagles have yet to drop a set.
The success for Woodrow Wilson has stemmed from solid play in all three key areas. The Flying Eagles have strong defenders, a solid setter and hitters that can finish the play.
“It really helps to have a solid back row. No one person is outshining another and they are all playing their best ball right now,” Rhodes said. “Abby Mower and Emily (Gallaher) are both doing great and they switch off as our libero depending on who we play and where I need different people. Leslie (Ball) and Skylar (Jeffrey) have also stepped up on the back row. Their serves are aggressive. Our defense in the middle-back is great.”
While the back line is often the unsung heroes of volleyball world, Rhodes lets her players know that is not the case in her eyes.
“The hitters get the praise, but I always tell my players it is a team sport,” Rhodes said. “You have to have that pass, to have the set, to get the hit for the big kill.”
When the back row moves the ball forward, Woodrow has one of the top players in the state to set the table for an explosive kill.
Sophomore setter Abby Dillon has over 1,000 assists for the second year in a row.
“Having a setter that is very calm, level headed and doesn’t get frustrated easily, can make or break a team,” Rhodes said.
The Woodrow Wilson front line provides plenty of options led by senior ZaMahya Moss and sophomore bookends Alanna Penn and Salia Harris.
“ZaMahya has really come a long way over her career. She worked hard in the off-season in club (ball) and she can read the ball and the block really well,” Rhodes said. “Alanna and Salia on the outside started producing really well for us and that helps a lot. One of the changes I made was moving Alanna from middle to the outside. It was big for her to be able to read the court better and it was big for our team.”
The Flying Eagles have also received solid contributions from junior Saira Diehl and freshman Anya Hasan in key moments throughout the season.
Woodrow Wilson will opens state tournament play Wednesday morning at 8:30 a.m. against Bridgeport.
The Flying Eagles are looking for its first state tournament win since 2018 when they knocked off University. Last year Woodrow Wilson lost a tough opening round game to George Washington in five sets and they have not forgot about it either.
“I think last year was heartbreaking beating (George Washington) in five sets at regionals, then losing in five sets at states to them by just a couple of points,” Rhodes said. “I think this team is ready. I have not seen this team get down when we are behind in points and they don’t let that discourage them. That is something I haven’t had in the past.”
Several of the Woodrow players, including Dillon, are making a return to Charleston, but this time they hope experience pays big dividends.
“The atmosphere at the state tournament was kind of crazy and almost overwhelming last year. I was shaking before the game,” Dillon said, with a big smile. “I am not going to lie. I was really nervous. I had never been in anything that big before. I know what I am getting into now, so hopefully it helps with my confidence and the nerves a little bit.”
The winner of the Woodrow-Bridgeport game will matchup in the semifinal round Wednesday against the winner of Musselman and George Washington starting at 6:30 p.m.
Musselman is the two-time defending state champions.