Graduation impacts nearly every high school roster, regardless of sport.
In the case of the Woodrow Wilson volleyball team, the toll was quite high after graduation.
First-team all-stater Elysia Salon was a dynamic hitter and the emotional leader of the Flying Eagles.
Olivia Ziolkowski earned second-team honors and was a force at net, creating headaches for opposing hitters with her blocking ability.
Emily Stack transitioned to college volleyball at WVU Tech, taking her strong hitting skills with her.
Add to that the loss of two solid defensive specialists, Abby Wooton and Taylor McDaniel, and head coach Bre Rhodes clearly has his work cut out for him this year.
“It was a special team for sure. There was a lack of drama and they loved each other,” Rhodes said. “The seniors were great and I had great leaders. The underclassman was also great These elderly people will certainly be missed.
The senior group helped Beckley earn a spot in a state tournament and captured the elusive Class AAA Region 3 title with a thrilling five-set victory over longtime foe George Washington.
The good news for Beckley is that the closet is far from empty, but there is clearly work to be done before September.
Setter Abby Dillon will return after an impressive freshman season, alongside hitters Zamahya Moss and Saira Diehl. Abby Mower is also back to shore up the back row.
“We had an older team, but we also had younger players who formed a hard core that we could build on,” Rhodes said.
The team building process is already underway during the three-week summer training period.
“I just like to see who’s coming out in the fall. I’ve always told everyone I’m starting with 24 vacancies,” Rhodes said. “It’s kind of nice to bring freshmen and to get them used to the way we play Woodrow volleyball. We had a good turnout, but a lot of them are dual sport (athletes). Football goes on, basketball goes on, and there are vacations.
“I look a bit like fall in the summer,” Rhodes continued. “I write about who is coming and where they are playing. I obviously don’t select a team before tryouts, but it’s good to see where I can put the different people who come in.
There is also more than just practice involved during the three weeks. Two weeks involved working volleyball camps for elementary and middle-aged players that attracted over 150 young players.
“I ask the girls to run our camps and we train right after. So they are here from 11:15 (am) to 5:30 (pm),” Rhodes said. “It’s a long day and we’re conditioning, as well as training. Last Friday I took about 15 players to Bridgeport. We normally try to go and do at least one summer tournament.
Rhodes also likes what she sees in the early stages of the group, which has committed to working over the summer.
“We haven’t seen any drama from this group yet either. It helps a lot that the freshman can come in and feel like part of the team, without feeling like an outcast. It’s always nice to have good team chemistry so early in the process.
The Flying Eagles will open the season by hosting the annual Shirley Brown Invitational on September 3. After battling Covid protocols for the past two years, the tournament will return to its original format of pool play followed by bracket play this year.
Teams scheduled to compete with the Flying Eagles will be Shady Spring, Princeton, George Washington, Independence, Parkersburg South, PikeView and Hurricane.