SHEPHERDSVILLE - You can go home again. That is the case for first-year Bullitt Central volleyball head coach Katie VanVactor, a former Lady Cougar player.
The 2005 graduate, who was Katie Lee at the time, takes over for Jennifer Romine who stepped down after getting the maroon and gray to the Eighth Region Tournament for two straight seasons including a 28th District crown in 2010.
VanVactor was Romine’s top assistant the past two seasons.
“I’ve always said that I wanted coach,” VanVactor said after practice on Monday of this week, three days before her team plays its first game. “It’s nice to be back with the program.”
After graduating from Bullitt Central, VanVactor played volleyball at Asbury College. Right after finishing up at Asbury, she was back in Shepherdsville. The first year she concentrated on teaching before joining Romine’s staff.
VanVactor doesn’t think most fans will notice a big difference in the way the team plays from the past few seasons.
“I think we are both pretty intense,” the coach said of herself and Romine. “I think I’m trying to teach the girls what they are doing instead of turning to me and asking what they need to do. I want them to be aware of what they can fix.
“Volleyball is a game of mistakes,” VanVactor said. “Whoever makes the lest will win. I just want them to get better.”
The only downside for VanVactor returning home is that the program lost five seniors from last year’s squad including two who will be playing college volleyball this fall. With only two seniors on this year’s roster, it is certainly a rebuilding stage for the Lady Cougars.
Most young coaches might want an extra week before that first game, but VanVactor is ready for Thursday’s opener at home against Seneca.
“I’ll be pleased to get to that game,” she said. “We’re put them through a tough pre-season. They are ready to play. We worked them pretty hard.”
Unlike some other programs, Bullitt Central did not take part in the Bluegrass State Games in the pre-season. The squad did scrimmage Elizabethtown last week.
“They had been to the Bluegrass Games so they had quite a few games on us,” VanVactor pointed out. “The first game was fine, but then in the second set we didn’t play well. Then we gave Elizabethtown a good run at the end. That was a huge accomplishment for them.”
VanVactor had 40 girls during the summer ‘open’ gyms and then had just over 30 for the try-outs. From that number, she kept 28 players in the program. About half of that final number were in the program last season.
At this point, VanVactor feels comfortable in using any of the 12 players on her varsity in a match.
“We have a lot of girls on varsity who if someone is having an off night can step in and play,” the coach said. “They are evenly matched.”
The offense will be a 5-1 look this season.
One of the team’s two seniors, Katelyn Frye, will do the setting and she will be backed-up by sophomore Amber Harp.
The two most experienced returning players are juniors Haley Dukes and Eryn Toogood. Dukes will start as an outside hitter while Toogood will be a middle blocker. The other outside hitter with Dukes will be sophomore Ashley Larison while joining Toogood inside will be junior Amy Gossett, who saw some action late last season.
One starting spot still up for grabs is at the right side hitter where junior Maddie Ray and sophomore Darian McDonald will both be getting playing time.
Backing up the outside hitters will be sophomore Kaitlyn Cundiff while sophomore Charish Hodge will see time as a middle blocker.
The team’s other senior, Kristina Dockery will be the defensive specialist while junior Kenzie Miller will rotate in as the libero.
Bullitt Central does have size. Hodge stands 5-11 while both Toogood and Gossett are 5-10. Dukes, who is the starting catcher for the Lady Cougar softball team, is 5-9.
“We’re just young,” VanVactor said. “We’re going to play a lot of juniors and sophomores. We’re not as experienced as we were last year.
“If we pass the ball well I don’t think there is a team we can’t compete with,” the coach concluded.
At this point, VanVactor has just one assistant coach, Brenda Thornsberry. The program is allowed two assistant coaches. Thornsberry was the program’s freshman coach last season.
After starting the season this week against Seneca, the Lady Cougars will shift into high gear next week with three games and a tournament. The key game in that stretch comes on Tuesday when they travel to Mount Washington to take on Bullitt East. While that contest is no longer a district match-up, it still will be high on the emotional scale.
The first true district game for Bullitt Central will come on Monday, Aug. 20 when the team travels to North Bullitt. As with most team sports, realignment this season has put the Lady Cougars in a district for volleyball with North Bullitt, Southern, Moore and Evangel.