By Brenden West Herald Assistant Sports Editor
The Clinton Herald
---- — MORRISON, Ill. – Like any coach, Jennifer Medenblik has looked down the pipeline for some time for what Morrison has finally unveiled in 2013. Her Fillies team deploys senior Chelsea Eads on the outside and a freshman, Brooke Stralow, handles front-row right-side duties, including some setting. Otherwise Morrison’s roster is loaded with juniors.
Even then it’s a mixed bag. Although the Fillies would appear loaded with juniors, not all of the players have had time to jell the way other top-heavy programs in the area have.
“There’s absolutely some growing pains,” Medenblik said, adding that some of her juniors have played on varsity since they were freshmen; others have only just climbed the ranks and arrived in time to start on opening night. “They’re getting used to playing next to a person they haven’t played next to.”
Once the 3-5 Fillies overcome their initial cohesive struggles, Medenblik said she likes what Morrison has the potential to dish out.
She described her team as “smaller” than most others in the Three Rivers Conference. The 5-foot-11 Stralow is among the tallest, despite being the youngest. Medenblik said she was confident in the freshman’s abilities and raw gifts she brings to the table. It’s uncommon to see such tall setters at such a young age, but according to Medenblik: “She’s just a natural athlete. She has court sense and the girls trust her.”
That youth is balanced by Eads’ leadership, Medenblik said. The senior has a year of all-around outside play under her belt, and has already established herself as one of Morrison’s most reliable offensive weapons. That’s aided by the attacks by junior middle Laikyn Goodman.
“They both see the court very well,” Medenblik said of Eads and Goodman. “They don’t always just hit it as hard as they can. They’re very good at placing it.”
Joining Stralow at setter are juniors Brooke Ryan and Liz Green. The Fillies run a modified two-setter offense, with Ryan coming in for Stralow in the back row.
“Ryan is very good about keeping the hitters aggressive,” Medenblik said. “Green can hit out of the front row, so she’s very versatile about setting and hitting.”
Aggression is something the Fillies have struggled with. Medenblik said that in tight games, the Morrison hitters have trended more toward playing points safely for fear of losing games. Like the growing pains, that’s something the coach believes the team will work through as the season rolls along.
“Sometimes they want to play safe,” she said. “You see teams on the 24th point not hit the ball hard. I want them to go out, be aggressive and see that they can succeed.”
Rounding out the lineup (a bevy of them juniors) are outside Payton Kennedy – who played varsity as a sophomore – middle Adrienne Banks and libero Alyssa Canales. Morrison’s roster is loaded with talented and consistent players who are just waiting to click.
But one good surprise thus far for Medenblik has been watching her defense when it’s on top of it’s game.
“Usually we’re outsized,” she said. “But they executed their defense very well, picked up everything. If the ball’s going to the corner of the gym, they ran to the corner.
“It’s a credit to every girl on the floor. Those nights that they’ve played together they’ve done very well. That’s when I’ve seen them get over that (cohesive) hurdle.”
The Fillies. next match is a road trip to Amboy on Thursday. Medenblik said she didn’t like to prognosticate outcomes – she’s “superstitious.” Instead, she elaborated on her team’s game-by-game goals.
“One thing I’ve told my girls is they can look at any rotation we have and put it to any hitter they want,” Medenblik said. “The hitting has been very even. There’s not been one hitter that outshines the other.
“I have been waiting for these girls to be together with this senior that we have. I’ve been looking forward to this season for a long time.”