AUGUSTA — The challenges for the Nokomis volleyball team speak for themselves. A second-year varsity program. A second head coach in as many years. A pandemic that ground the sport — as well as countless other areas of life — to a halt.

For the Warriors, however, it’s been an upward trend from the beginning.

Nokomis is now 2-1 after a 3-2 victory over Cony on Tuesday. The Warriors have also beaten Hampden Academy and lost to Messalonskee in this tweener season, and as the record suggests, coach Kate Myers likes what she’s seeing from her program.

“A lot of the girls have really improved with their serving, which … is a huge key to the game,” she said. “They’ve really come a long way with their serving, and their passing skills have greatly improved.”

Junior setter Melissa Walker has seen that growth as well.

“We’re definitely a better team than we were last year,” she said. “We’ve come together a lot more.”

Leading the way for Nokomis has been its five seniors, a group that includes Allie Grozik, Paula and Nancy Dauphinais, Riley Donovan and Erin Beane.

“My freshman year, we were just a club. We had no idea what we were going for, we were just playing for fun,” Grozik said. “The skill level is a lot higher, so it’s a lot harder competition, but that has pushed us tremendously to grow as a team.”

“Having (our seniors) on the team has been great,” Myers said. “They’ve been kind of the leaders of the team and getting us geared to be to that competitive level.”

Becoming competitive is always the tall task for a new program — Nokomis was a club team before making the jump to varsity under coach Julie Moulton in 2019 — and the Warriors have faced hurdles. The biggest now is team size and a lack of depth, as Nokomis has only 18 players combined between the varsity and junior varsity levels.

“Right now, the low numbers are hard during matches with the masks. I’m trying to get the girls break time in matches,” Myers said. “But also, at the varsity level, you’re really focusing on one position. So the more you have of those positions, you can sub and you just have more flexibility in matches.”

Inexperience and youth is another challenge, even though one of the underclassmen, freshman Abby Brown, has been one of the team’s top players from the start of the season.

“We have a very young team, which is also going to be a strength coming through the years,” Myers said. “We have a few freshmen who haven’t played, or some of our sophomores just started in the fall. We have a lot of those girls that haven’t really had that full experience.”

Nokomis setter Abby Brown serves during a game against Cony on Tuesday in Augusta. Joe Phelan/Kennebec Journal Buy this Photo

That inexperience showed itself last year, as Nokomis saw what varsity competition looked like for the first time.

“Last year was definitely a challenge for us,” junior setter Melissa Walker said. “We played a lot of teams that have been around a lot longer than us and have been playing together for many, many years, so we had to catch up to their level of play.”

“The first years were rough,” Grozik said. “Last year … was a little rocky. There weren’t a lot of wins on the board. But it was learning.”

Knowing she’s growing something, Myers, a former player at Yarmouth who coached for the Maine Juniors Central Maine team, has tried to continue that learning. She’s focused on the overall process, instead of putting emphasis on wins and losses.

“(We’re) really focusing on the basics. They went a long time without playing, from September to now,” she said. “So we’re really just focusing on the basics of getting your good pass, really focusing on getting that bump, set, spike, where our second set is for the setter who’s trying to set up for a hit, and also getting our serves in and trying to make those more consistent.”

Grozik said the program is in good hands.

“(Myers is good at) making sure the fine details are nitpicked and put together in the best way that we can possibly have them,” she said. “She knows the game very well, and she’s able to teach us a lot of what she knows.”

That coaching is taking hold. After rolling to a 2-0 lead over Cony with 25-23 and 25-16 set victories, the Warriors faced an all-or-nothing fifth set when Cony bounced back with 25-19 and 25-18 victories.

The Rams were serving for match point up 14-12, but Nokomis won a long volley to regain the serve, and with sophomore Courtney Wheaton serving the Warriors took the next three points to complete the victory.

It’s the kind of victory that shows a team on the right path. Grozik hopes to see that continue.

“I would like to see them at the levels of the schools down south,” she said. “I think they have the skill.”

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