In a Class of Her Own

Ashley Smith finds herself the only senior on the volleyball team this year. What does it say about the class of 2016.

Dominic Balestrieri-Fox, Executive Editor

It’s rare that a team is made entirely of seniors. Depending on the sport and the particular situation for a given year, there might only be a handful of seniors on a varsity team. A team that has only one senior is something almost unheard of; it hasn’t happened in at least the past 14 years on the City High volleyball team; enter Ashley Smith ‘16, City High varsity volleyball’s only senior player. It’s going to be an interesting senior-night.

Smith, an energetic, vocal libero has been on the team since transferring from Tipton her junior year. She is one of the team’s captains and leaders on the court, and is confident that she’s up for the job.

“I like it because I like being able to carry the team, to guide everyone, I don’t want to be a follower, I want to be a leader, so this is a good role for me,” she said.

While initially upset that few seniors opted to continue volleyball this season, Smith has since come to accept it and is happy for her former teammates.

“At first, I was upset, because I wanted to spend it [senior year] with everybody, but they’re coming to all the games, they support me. If they’re happy, I’m happy,” she said.

Although the situation is rare, athletic director Terry Coleman sees it as having less to do with the class of 2016 and more to do with random and situational factors.

“I don’t think it says anything about the class of 2016, we have a ton of seniors on the [girls] cross country team, the [girls] tennis team has several seniors, he said. “Obviously with the juniors, completely opposite story. They have a lot of athletes involved with volleyball, but maybe not as much in the other sports.”

Swimmer Alix Sharp ‘16 is in a similar situation to Smith’s; she is one of two seniors on the girls’ swimming team this year, the other is Alayna McCafferty ‘16. She doesn’t see the lack of seniors as a bad thing at all, but, rather, liberating.

“I think it’s really nice,” she said. “We’ve been through it all together, we know what’s going on, there aren’t a ton of people trying to control everything.”

Sharp thinks that the bigger picture is more important: not only did the swim team gain several new swimmers, it retained the same number of seniors from last year and is on track for a large senior class in 2018.

“It’s always really nice to have a lot of people go out, and the freshman class is half of our team and I think that team will build throughout the years,” she said.

One reason Sharp attributes to the loss of seniors in certain City High sports is intensity of workload; the girls’ swimming team has a 19 meet season and averages over 15 hours of practice a week.

“Swimming isn’t that big of a thing at City, and almost no one in our grade really wants to do swimming. Last year there were two seniors. I think it’s just one of those things, swimming has a big workload,” she said.

Smith takes an all-in approach to volleyball’s workload, and sees why others might not.

“Volleyball, especially for City High, is a big commitment, we’re busy every single weekend and practice after school, so personally, I want people to go out, but I want them to go out 110%. If they aren’t feeling it, you know, ‘do you’, but you don’t have to go out for volleyball because it’s a huge time commitment,” she said.

Head volleyball coach Craig Pitcher thinks another factor that might drive seniors away is competition from underclassmen. If starting spots are taken by underclassmen, it disincentivizes seniors from competing.

“A lot of these juniors played as sophomores, and there was maybe a point, where a lot of the seniors said ‘I’m going to work really hard in practices, but not get a lot of playing time, so is it worth it to go out?’,” he said.

Coleman agrees that the decision to pursue a more rewarding situation in another sport is a common one among athletes, especially seniors.

“People are always evaluating their particular situation. If you’re a senior in a sport and maybe you’re going to have more of a supporting role and you don’t want to take that supporting role, or you want to explore more opportunities,” Coleman said.

Volleyball is one of the handful of sports at City High that have to make cuts, and starting positions are highly contested. Juniors almost entirely make up the varsity squad.

“I’m in a position where I’m going to put what I feel is the best team out on the court whether they’re freshmen, sophomores, juniors, or seniors,” he said. “Part of it is having a junior class that is very skilled, it’s uncommon to have a strong class that comes through where a lot of the spots are filled by juniors.”

Smith stood out among the class of 2016 early on, having developed a leadership role on the court during her junior year, despite being a fresh transfer from Tipton.

“She transferred in last year, but she had that leadership in her the whole time, and due to her communication, her competitiveness, it was never a worry that Ash would be able to get the kids going,” Pitcher said.

Juniors like Shannon James and Alexa Aldrich-Ingram have stepped up to take the leadership roles normally filled by seniors.

“There’s always an adjustment time at the beginning of the year, to really understand what kind of role they have to have. In volleyball, it’s really a matter of ‘Can we get in sync as a team to really get it good?’,” he said.

James, Smith’s co-captain, sees her class doing just that, and doesn’t think much of the lack of seniors. She’s been playing varsity ball since her freshman year.

“We definitely missed the seniors from last year, but I think we’re really stepping up,” James said. “The ones [of us] who are returning varsity players have all taken up leadership roles; there’s not really a single leader who’s a junior, we all work together as a sort of cohesive thing.”

It wasn’t apparent that the team would be almost entirely juniors early on; a group of seniors attended the preseason meeting, but due to schedule conflicts and personal factors, namely the desire to participate in other sports, the number dropped to one.

“Next year, we could have a lot of seniors,” Pitcher said. “One year, you’re very sparse, the next year you have an abundance. Next year I’ll have a situation where I’ll have a lot of seniors, but I’ll have to fill those spots when they’re gone.”

Focusing on next year, James sees the experience that the junior players on varsity will gain as a clear advantage of having fewer seniors this season.

“We’re going to get a lot of people back next year, which is a huge plus. Next year we’re really not losing anybody but Ashley,” she said.

Although only one player will be replaced, James feels that Smith’s presence on the court will be missed next season.

“It’s going to be hard to adjust to, because she brings a lot of energy and during practice she’s kind of our driving force, she motivates us all. Someone’s going to have to fill that role,” she said.

Smith is excited for the juniors next season and confident in their abilities and her own in this one, regardless of the situation.

“The cards fell how they did, and I think as harder games come around we’ll be mentally ready,” she said. “Next season, they’re going to be a strong team. A lot of them have been playing together since grade school in club, through freshmen year, and as seniors they’re going to be a really strong team.”