In 2020, the Cottage Grove volleyball program saw a familiar face step into the role of head coach.
Abby Ladd, a former Lion herself, played for the program from 2013-2016 and coached at Cottage Grove for four years before being promoted to head coach.
Stepping into the lead for the first time is a challenge in itself — much less in the midst of a pandemic — but Coach Ladd didn’t let the team get distracted.
“Last year our goal for the program was having a positive mindset and it was tough dealing with COVID-19 when some girls hadn’t touched a ball or been around people and school life had been crazy,” said Ladd. “So our goal was just focused around being positive around each other and building that positivity into our everyday lives.”
Coach Ladd led the Lions to an overall 8-4 record and had only two losses in league play. At one point in the season the Lions had a seven-game winning streak where they dominated the competition and were only pushed to five sets once.
“As a team we talked about the win streak a lot because we didn’t want to get too cocky and let our guard down against our opponent. And you could see it sometimes in individual games during that winning stretch when we would get too confident then the opponent would start to come back,” she said. “We talked about not getting too confident but also not getting too down on ourselves when we would make mistakes and finding a balance between playing confident but not underestimating our opponent.”
Ladd led the Lions to their best finish in the Sky-Em league since 2018, taking second behind Junction City. Cottage Grove lost three key seniors from last year but will look for the continued development of some younger players along with seven returning juniors.
“Last year we graduated three seniors and two of them were over six feet tall. It’s tough to lose that height especially in the middle because it helps at the net with blocking,” Ladd explained. “This year we’re going to have to shift our focus and re-strategize how we’re going to play at the net and how we’re going to defend against hitters just because we don’t have that big wall in the middle like we had a season ago.”
Ladd emphasized the importance of building both mental and physical toughness on and off the court.
“I think a successful season to me never has to do with the scores or win or loss record. It has to do with whether the girls are getting better and improving and becoming better people by the end of each season,” she said. “So, when we work on things, we work on skill building, we work on attitude, we work on mental toughness, and we find the wins instead of focusing on how we’re going to win.”
With Ladd returning for her second year as head coach, the Lions are also returning with 75 percent of the varsity roster from last year.
Ladd hopes that the experience her team brings back and the success they had last year will propel them into this new season with a higher set of expectations as they aim for their first league title since 2018 and a return to the state tournament.
“Our goals for the season are to have good ball control and to out-serve and receive our opponents. That’s how we will win,” she said. “We don’t have the big, tall power hitters like we have had in the past and so being able to put pressure on the other side by serving tough is important for us. Being able to receive the other team’s serves is important, too, and putting the pressure on them to make the errors and reducing ours is key for the upcoming season.”
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