Walter Johnson adjusting well to its personnel losses

Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006

The challenge for Walter Johnson High’s girls volleyball team as the season started was how it was going to replace Mariecatherine Gleason, Carolina Uecki and All-Gazette first-team selection Christina Paul, all of whom were lost to graduation. Conventional wisdom said that the Wildcats would spend this year experiencing growing pains, learning to win while losing some matches. Yet, as the season hits the halfway point, their record stands at a better-than-expected 5-3.

‘‘Things have been going okay,” Walter Johnson coach Bill Morris said. ‘‘In the early part of the year we were learning the ropes, but as each game has progressed our consistency and tenacity has gotten better.”

The Wildcats most complete effort may have come against Northwest in a straight game 25-15, 25-7, 25-18 victory last Tuesday (Oct. 3). Highlighting the match was the ease in which Walter Johnson won the second game, utilizing crisp passing to finish off points with easy kills.

‘‘That was a team that earlier in the season we may have struggled against,” Morris said. ‘‘For a young team, winning in straight games, and having a dominant second game, was nice to see.”

A variety of Wildcats have stepped up to fill the various holes let by the departure of their experienced trio. Sophomores Gabriela Marquez and Morgan Harris have both excelled as outside hitters, while junior middle hitter Anna Iofin has fulfilled the blocking duties on the defensive end. Senior Dragana Stojvelic has overcome early struggles to emerge as the team’s most consistent passer and freshman Anna Elder has emerged as a contributor to the team after Morris had not expected her to play much early in the season.

‘‘Anna has tremendous reflexes,” he said. ‘‘She’s been able to make big plays for us all season.”

However, the Wildcats have improved in large part because Leslie Zelenko has stepped into the setter position vacated by Paul, who is now playing at the University of Maryland.

‘‘She really has come into her own,” Morris said. ‘‘She’s gotten more confident on the court. As she’s gotten better, the offense has been able to become more aggressive, which was something we needed to do.”

Now the Wildcats face the toughest stretch of their season heading into the playoffs. First up is Wootton on Tuesday (in a match that finished too late for this edition of The Gazette). Morris hopes that this stretch will give his team an accurate picture of what they need to improve as the playoffs approach.

‘‘These next six games are a big test,” he said. ‘‘It’s the toughest part of our schedule. They girls know that we have progressed, but now they have a chance to see where they stand. They are looking forward to these next games.”