When she took over the Sherrard High School volleyball program, Amy Mitton saw an aspect of her new club that she appreciated right from their first meeting.
"This is a great bunch of girls, and they really want to win," said the former Riverdale assistant. "I felt like we could do well. I saw a lot of potential."
Indeed, the Tigers (6-4) have showed that winning potential in the season's first couple of weeks, reeling off wins in their first three matches and four of their first five.
"One of our strengths is the mental aspect of the game," said Mitton, a 1995 Riverdale graduate who spent the last three volleyball seasons on Lisa Black's staff with the Rams. "I see a very sound mindset; we can bring each other back when we get down."
The Tigers return a nucleus of five letterwinners from a squad that finished 11-19 last fall, and those seniors have been instrumental in Sherrard's early success.
Middle blocker Sarah Sorrell and outside hitter Carley Whitsell strengthen Sherrard's front-line attack, with setters Emma Hofmann and Taylor Williams keeping the pace and Hofmann proving to be a versatile piece of the puzzle, alternating as a right-side hitter.
"We've got a strong middle and some strong outside hitters," said Mitton, "and we hoped to bring that combo together and run a very quick offense."
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Defensively, libero Lauren McMillin is coming off a junior season in which she set a single-season record with 4.51 digs per set. With serve-receive being one of Mitton's key concerns entering the season, McMillin's presence provides stability there.
"We've been working on that every day in practice," Mitton said. "Every drill we have, has some serve-receive in it. We've really been working hard the last (several) weeks."
Rams turning it around: Speaking of Mitton's former club, Riverdale has shown signs of a major turnaround after 2018's 10-20-4 finish. The Rams have almost matched last year's win total with their 8-4-1 start.
Buoyed by the return of senior middle hitter Sidney Garrett to the lineup after being sidelined with a knee injury last year, Riverdale reeled off six wins in its first eight matches, then got back on track with a two-set sweep of Dixon after dropping three straight.
The junior duo of outside hitter Shae Hanrahan and setter Katelyn Oleson are working their way back into shape after battling injuries as well, which has the Rams back on the radar as a serious contender in the TRAC West.
"Being healthy is a big key for us, that's number one," said Black. "Number two, this is a completely different team. The work ethic is really strong, we have a lot of consistency, and these girls are ready to compete."