By JACK BOGACZYK
HUNTINGTON, W.Va. -- Cassie Weaver and Taylor Riedel don’t need the Dorothy Gale character from The Wizard of Oz to explain it to them.
For the Marshall sophomore pair, there’s no place like home to play college volleyball.
The Huntington residents were two-time All-State players at Cabell Midland High, and their roles – Weaver at outside hitter, Riedel primarily at setter – will grow on veteran Coach Mitch Jacobs’ young 2014 club.
The Herd has only one senior in All-Conference USA setter Sammie Bane, and on a 15-player roster, 11 are sophomores or freshmen.
“Their roles have to change,” Jacobs said of Riedel and Weaver, whom he has coached since their early teens on club teams he manages. “They are a year older and we expect them to contribute.
“In Taylor’s situation, it will most likely be in spot playing time or if she can develop her back row play faster than we expect, she could see significant time. But we also have the situation where we need to get Sammie out of the front row at times due to matchups and that has put Taylor and freshman Kayla Simmons in a competition for that spot.
“As for Cassie, I don’t know if our team can reach its ultimate potential if she can’t handle serve receive. This team has some fantastic athletes and players, but Cassie, after (sophomore) Elyse Panick, is probably the best six-rotation player we have. So we will put some game-type pressure on her and see if she responds positively.”
So, when Marshall opens the season Aug. 29-30 in the Henderson Center with the annual Thunder Invitational against visiting Virginia, UIC and Eastern Michigan, Weaver and Riedel know that Herd followers – no matter the sport – always pay attention more keenly when Tri-State or in-state players are involved.
“It does add a little bit of pressure,” Riedel said of the local connections. “Because high school girls, girls we played with in club, girls we coach now in club volleyball – which is weird – yeah, they look and want to see how we are doing and we don’t want to let them down.
“If we do well, then they have something to look up to, especially young girls. They’re thinking, ‘Maybe I’m from here, but maybe one day I can play for Marshall, too.’ It’s not just people from Florida, Michigan and all these places. Local girls can do it, too.”
“They expect us to do well because we got a scholarship to play Division I and they’re the same age as us, or a year younger than us,” she said. “They were teammates, whatever … They think like, ‘Oh, you’re so good,’ so we have to show them that we deserve this. We didn’t just get a scholarship. We deserved it.”
Jacobs’ “local knowledge” – so to speak – underscored that about the two players he recruited from his backyard.
“I knew what I was getting when I offered them scholarships,” said Jacobs, starting his 22nd season as a college head coach, and 13th at Marshall. “In Riedel, you have a leader with a work ethic second to none. She wants to train endlessly and no matter what you say to her about rest she will turn around and go workout instead of a nap.
“I have no question that if Taylor keeps working she will make an impact for us during her career here. Sometimes things don’t happen in the timeline the player wishes, but she will make a difference for us on the court. Although her playing time has been limited, her work ethic and leadership skills have already made a difference in a way most don’t see.
“Weaver is a player that has so much talent but has always been able to just ride that talent against very limited competition in West Virginia high school volleyball. Her freshman season was very up and down and it will be very important that she continues to grow in maturity.
“As an undersized outside hitter, she can’t be in good shape, she has to be in the best shape in the entire conference if she really wants to be great. Her attitude this preseason has been exceptional and if she can continue to show up every day to learn and compete then her talent can take her on an unlimited journey.”
The 5-foot-9 Weaver started in 13 of her 25 matches last season, while the 5-5 Riedel played in 23 matches and ranked second among the Herd with 75 assists. They say they are ready for added responsibility needed even from sophomore returnees on a young team.
Jacobs said he has been emphasizing to Riedel and Weaver what he wants – and the Herd needs – from them in the 2014 season. Neither is surprised, they said.
“The biggest thing for Taylor is that she stays patient,” the MU coach said. “She is training as a setter, but we have to get her a lot of extra defensive and ball-control reps as well. Taylor has lightning quickness and can have unbelievable range. So we have stressed to her that we need her not only as a setter, but as a defensive specialist as well.
“But she is going to have to have patience, which isn’t her strongest trait. I see Taylor’s greatest contributions to this team in the future when it comes to on-court, in-match. So, her understanding that this is a process is going to be her biggest challenge, since she has always been her teams’ greatest leader prior to here. Not playing regularly, she needs to learn how to remain that leader while working her way into a role.
“The biggest thing we keep stressing with Cassie is to stay mentally positive. She often rides the roller coaster of emotions and has to learn that she will not always be successful. So how do I contribute when I’m not on? And since she has many areas of the game that she excels, she can always contribute even if one area isn’t clicking.
“The skills we have been focusing on with Cassie are her ball control and block. Being undersized, she made it to this level because she was so skilled in the back row, but she can also attack at a very high level. We need her to be a great ball-control player and by far the weakest area of her game is her block, and I have been very happy with the work she is putting in. We will see if she can remain positive and keep working her hardest when she isn’t playing her best.”
Weaver said Jacobs is working on her mental approach and doesn’t want “any facial expressions” from her. Riedel said that with hustle, she is trying to overcome what she sees as her weakness – “keeping up with the speed of the (college) game ... I’m still catching up with that.”
Jacobs said the two are important players for the Herd … and not just in what they might contribute on the court. There’s that “local success” that’s no small consideration, too.
“Keeping hometown players here is very important,” Jacobs said. “At the same time, I consider any kid that comes from West Virginia and is a Herd fan a hometown kid. The volleyball community in West Virginia is quite small, and I have shown over time the importance to keep in-state kids that I feel will help us be successful here at Marshall.
“On the flip side, it can be a very tough thing to do as well. They are from here, their families are from here and that adds an extra pressure. If they are not successful immediately, they feel like they are letting people down when that is the furthest thing from the truth. And of course if they are unhappy, now you have local families and lifelong Herd fans unhappy with your program.
“Sometimes it doesn’t work out the way you hope, but all you can do is know you’ve done your best by all the players in the program and stay true to the kids. Having Riedel and Weaver in our program is an awesome thing. With some patience from both of them, I believe they will both make big impacts in this program before they are finished.”