Pioneers are 'Rocking'/Player profile on Maya Raney-Johnson
It’s about change at Leavenworth High School in regards to the volleyball program.
Ashley Rogers is no longer in charge of the program and former assistant Cassandra Rockers takes over a Pioneer team that has struggled in recent years while at least upgrading its talent level.
Rockers takes over a team that has plenty of talent back that played as mostly underclassmen in 2016. They harbor high hopes for the new fall.
It doesn’t hurt that the girls get to work for a new head coach they are used to.
“I honestly think it’s going to be a lot stronger this year, the team is a lot better and I have always liked (Rockers),” junior libero Jessica Sachen said. “We left all of last year in the past. We have better team chemistry because we do get along with Rockers a lot.”
Rockers enters his fifth year with the program as she now takes over the controls.
“I am really excited and I’ve had a lot of ideas for the program,” Rockers said. “I am excited to break things down technically for the girls. We have been doing a lot of skill work and we are working on being a more consistent program overall from the top down.
“It helps that I knew the tendencies and personalities of the girls and how they mesh together and how they respond to me. That made it easier for me to transition into the position. I told them that my expectations for them would be higher than what they had been held to in the past. I told them it was going to be different and I was going to be a different coach for them. I tried to kind of make that evident from the very beginning.”
Rockers knew once Rogers left that she wanted the position and has immediately gotten at it and has seen some early returns.
“I have seen a lot of progress from the girls and I knew it would take some time,” Rockers said. “They have been very receptive to the things that we have been working on such as transition and approaches and specifically defensive footwork. The little things we haven’t done in the past and you can see it transferring over in (summer league) games.
“Our systems are coming together and in quickening up our offense. I have seen a lot more progress from the younger girls because they are completely new to it. … I am not breaking bad habits. I am starting from ground zero.”
The setting position will be interesting after losing the reliable Taryn Burks to graduation after putting up solid numbers despite playing against a juggernaut schedule.
Sophomore Ayden Bartlett will move from libero to be one of the team’s primary setters.
“We have a lot of all-around players so it won’t be that big of an issue with new hands,” junior outside hitter Randi Raymos said. “Aiden has been a great setter and everyone can adapt to anything and go with the flow.
“It’s a really big deal to have chemistry with the setter and the hitters and passers. Everything goes together and if the hands aren’t there you can’t get anything accomplished. It’s summer so we can all come together and figure out who needs what and how we can get where we need to go together.”
Rockers acknowledges Bartlett’s contribution at setter and even noted that the 6-foot-2 Raymos is also setting a bit, which could present some interesting looks for opposing defenses.
“(Burks is a tough replacement) but I’ve had a couple girls step up and say they want to take the role which shows good leadership,” Rockers said. “Aiden has been setting in a 5-1 and we have been experimented with a 6-2 offense with Randi setting. She’s got the softest hands I have ever seen.
“We are going to work on her footwork and I want to work on a 6-2 because we will have more hitters and be able to do more things.”
The hitters will have to also improve as they failed to hit over .100 for the season despite Burks’ high-percentage setting.
“Our big focus this summer has been setting-hitting connections so we have been doing a lot of setting and hitting work,” Rockers said. “We are working on our timing … right now it is rough because we are starting fresh with new setters. We are seeing progress and they are trying to do it correctly. The connections are getting better.”
The key is to get rid of the roller coaster level of play that plagued the team in 2016 as the Pioneers would play a good set and follow it with a few so-so ones.
“We will be steadier because we won’t have as many rotations and hopefully nobody gets hurt,” Sachen aid. “We will be more focused and ready to play at any time. I feel all of us are more comfortable. We have all played together.”
Player Profile: The Sudden Rise of Maya
The reality is that early in 2016 when Leavenworth High volleyball player Maya Raney-Johnson would step out onto the floor, not much was expected from her at the beginning of her sophomore year.
Then suddenly, the lightbulb when on and Raney-Johnson, now a junior for the Pioneers, became someone opponents had to account for as her play at middle blocker grew leaps and bounds.
“(When the season started) I was just Maya,” Raney-Johnson said. “I just feel that a switch flipped on. I was kind of timid. I would overthink things and then when I finally let it go that’s when things turned around.
“I feel like it had more to do with my family and I was playing club also which plays a big role. I had been playing up on that other team, but for me I would look on the other side of the court and see these 6-4, 6-5 girls and had scholarships all over the place. Instead of backing down, as soon as I knew they’d be at a higher level, I’d have to step my game up. Once I did that, I wouldn’t back down. Even if we played a crappy team, I’d still try to play at the highest level. I didn’t want to get stagnant in my play.”
Raney-Johnson said when the light went on she finally realized to stop turning them off. As a middle blocker she took her escalated self-worth out on the opposition as a way to finally pay off on what she was expected to do.
“I love being at the net and getting able to block people and hit it into peoples’ faces,” Raney-Johnson said. “I was hearing I had so much potential since I was little and I was sick and tired of hearing it. By the sophomore year I was like, ‘Let’s just go.’ I just put it all on the floor. Others saw it before I did – my parents and coaches – but once I started to see …”
Even her high school teammates saw it too.
“Maya is an amazing player and has always had the potential so I am not surprised that she has become that player,” senior outside hitter Randi Raymos said. “She’s always had that ability.”
The sudden rise is still sublime, but in hindsight, it’s the best thing that could have happened to Raney-Johnson.
“It was weird that it was so fast, because it became so prominent,” Raney-Johnson. “I was subpar and now I am really good. But I also didn’t have time to think too much about it.”