Derby’s 2018 schedule isn’t something coaches or players look back on with a big smile.
It was a competitive team, but from its first tournament at Hutchinson in late August, it witnessed multiple late set leads crumble apart.
With a clean slate ahead, the summer season painted a picture that coach Shelby Kraus’ squad hopes it can carry into the 2019 season.
The Panthers finished 43-6 in overall sets, including an undefeated run through their home tournament and being named camp champions in their trip to Washburn in late June.
“We picked up where we left off last year, which is good,” Kraus said. “We’re not having to start from the basics.”
Eager to have that experience, Kraus said it has given her an ability to direct girls on specific schemes and prepare for another talented and deep schedule.
“The whole thing this year is now that we’re at a level where we are passing, setting and hitting consistently, we need to learn to how to [attack opponents],” she added.
Kraus said she credits her four seniors, who all have extensive experience in her system and are taking on leadership on the court.
Derby did finish 9-3 in AVCTL-I standings, which allowed it to take second against its league foes. However, the longtime coach said her seniors have set higher aspirations as they approach their final season.
“Even in practices, it’s totally different,” Kraus said. “Before we do drills, we go through and I explain what I’m looking for and what we’re working on. They’re holding everyone else accountable … It’s often just been me and now they’re taking charge.”
Senior setter Sydney Nilles has played varsity all four years of her Derby career and is a three-time, all-AVCTL selection. Coming off her only first-team pick, Kraus said Nilles, who has committed to Newman for basketball, has become a more vocal leader.
“She’s such a quiet player,” Kraus said. “Now I see where she’s stepped into that leader role … I see that more now and she’s holding girls and herself accountable.”
Senior libero Heather Mills was joined by sophomore outside hitter Sophie Connor as second-team picks in AVCTL-I.
As one of the “floor generals,” Kraus said Mills has taken ownership of her role.
“I’ll say her name and she’ll say, ‘I know Kraus, I know,’” the Derby coach said. “That’s all I’ve got to say … she’ll say, ‘I’ll fix it.’”
Senior Danika Sinclair will also give Derby a year and a half of starting experience in its back line.
Connor and senior Jalen Keener will bring starting experience at the net and they’ll be joined by teammates Lexi Pitts, Antigone Colon and Circle transfer Tatum Boettjer.
The depth has allowed Kraus to knock out doubts that plagued last season of knowing how her rotations would work at outside hitter.
“She was second-team all league and she led our team in kills,” Kraus said of Connor. “Both she and Jalen are just hitting the daylights out of the ball. Based on where the pass is and where Sydney is setting, you’ve got to know what we’re running at any given time. They have to make that call and we worked on that a lot this summer.”