Late in the season, the Cardinal Newman volleyball team faced the best of problems.
After winning 16 matches without her, the Cardinals got their star middle hitter, Claire Edwards, back from injury.
“Right from the first day of practice, we lost our best player, Claire Edwards, with a stress fracture. I was worried about how we were going to handle that, but they did really well,” coach Bob Watson said. “So then the whole challenge was how do we adjust to getting her back?”
Having Edwards, a senior who has earned a scholarship to South Carolina, is a great advantage, but the chemistry the Cardinals developed without her also was beneficial.
“We were very excited to get her back, but we knew it was still going to disrupt the chemistry that those girls had developed,” Watson said.
With senior Savanna Haynes moving from outside to middle hitter, and several younger players stepping up, the Cardinals’ chemistry was impressive enough to gain the notice of visiting college coaches.
Haynes’ ability to adjust was key to holding things together.
“At first, I wasn’t really positive about it, but I figured I needed to step up and play where they needed me most,” she said.
“I actually found that middle is probably where I should have been all along,” said Haynes, who was the consensus pick for Region 1 Player of the Year.
The mix of players is led by seniors, including Nicki Regan, Lauren Deyling, and Maggie Garlick.
“It’s a real good leadership group, and it’s an interesting mix of girls, but it has worked,” Watson said.
And when Edwards came back, it continued to work.
“It was difficult for about a week,” he said.
Edwards needed time to get back into shape after being sidelined for seven weeks.
“The entire time, I just wanted to play so bad. I was back to practice within days of getting cleared, and I just worked really hard to be back,” Edwards said.
And the Cardinals needed time to adjust to their reshuffled rotation. Upon Edwards’ return, Haynes moved from first to second middle hitter, and freshman Peyton McDonald moved from middle to outside hitter.
“We had to work just as hard once we had her back, and with her it just makes us 10 times better,” Haynes said.
Now the Cardinals are 24-4, undefeated in Region 1 and likely to be the top seed in the SCISA Class 3A championship tournament, which begins Thursday.
“I’ve tried to play as hard a schedule as I can, and we’ve played the traditionally strong teams,” Watson said. “Knowing that you more than held your own against those teams gives a lot of confidence going into the state tournament.”