“Next man up” is typically used when an athlete goes down with an injury and a replacement needs to fill that void. However, for the Williamsburg Lady Wildcats, their next man up was coach Shari McKibben who took over for reigning Southern Buckeye Conference National Division Coach of the Year Kim McCarty.
McCarty moved across the conference to Batavia this season to the American Division and McKibben rose up the ranks within the program she has been coaching in for the past several years.
“I’ve been in the program for the past seven years in different capacities,” McKibben explained. “I helped run the youth program here and have helped junior high and JV, back and forth, for a couple of years now.”
Given the new varsity coach’s background, she has a strong familiarity with a Lady Wildcats team that is heavy on undergraduate players. In fact, McKibben said that she is coaching the current crop of juniors for the third time.
Losing just two seniors from last year’s SBC-National runner-up squad, the Lady Wildcats may be young on paper, but the sophomores and juniors that make up the majority of the team have had a year of high-level volleyball under their belts.
“We have very young girls that are very athletic and have great fundamentals that need some court time,” McKibben said. “We’re making some silly freshmen and sophomore errors, but we have a ton of ability and potential. We just need to continue to put it together as one unit on the court.
“Everyone is contributing in different ways. We have a very solid core group of girls playing now.”
Among the leaders on the Lady Wildcats’ roster this year is reigning SBC-National Player of the Year Aubrey Young. The sophomore middle blocker is evolving to a complete all-around player.
“She’s doing very well in the front row, obviously, but she’s contributing heavily in back row passing and digging this season, which I’m very pleased to see,” McKibben said.
Also showing strides in the early going are freshman Carley Wagers and sophomore Emily McKibben. Both girls are doing their part in attack and defense, making it difficult for the opposing team to get any easy kills at the net, while also excelling at the service line and in the back row.
Both of Burg’s setters —freshman Peyton Fisher and sophomore Calie Brown — are learning on the fly, but McKibben said their dedication to their team is helping them overcome the growing pains that go along with playing varsity for the first time.
Through their first three matches of the season, the Lady Wildcats are without a blemish on their record having taken down Summit Country Day, Princeton and Fayetteville-Perry on opening weekend. They have two more matches, including one against McCarty’s Lady Bulldogs, before they get into league play on Tuesday, Aug. 26 against Clermont Northeastern, the defending division champs and McKibben’s pick to be the biggest threat to a Williamsburg title in 2014.
“Our rival this season will be Clermont Northeastern,” the coach said. “The girls split with them last year, 1-1, so they’re the ones to beat.”
McKibben was privy to seeing some of the best players in the league at the preview that the Lady Wildcats hosted on Friday, Aug. 15, so she has a good idea of who some of the top players in the area are and what to expect from their competition.
“It helps to see who some of the dominant players are early in the season so that we can make up a game plan for that,” she said. “It also gets everyone in the gym, which helps the conference and it’s a great way to wrap up the preseason.”
The Lady Wildcats were back in action on Aug. 20 at Batavia and will play tonight against North Adams at 6:30 p.m.