MOUNT VERNON — One look at Mount Vernon High School junior Carter Cassell and it would be difficult to determine his athletic ability. The tall, lanky student doesn’t have the chiseled figure many athletes have. Then again, as a volleyball player, he doesn’t necessarily want that chiseled look.
His build certainly hasn’t affected his playing skills, and if anything, it has enhanced it. Cassell has proved to be a versatile player for the Yellow Jackets (21-4), who are back in the state tournament.
Cassell’s play hasn’t gone unnoticed this season. He has been named the Division I East Region Player of the Year, Ohio Capital Conference Player of the Year and, most recently, First Team All-Ohio. While the first two are tremendous accomplishments, the latter perhaps means the most.
“This is a really great honor,” said Cassell. “I worked hard in the offseason to get where I wanted to be. I wanted to do all I could to help my team, but it is nice to get some personal recognition also.”
One reason Cassell believes his play has improved this season has been because of his teammates. The Jackets have multiple threats, and Cassell is not the only player who contributes.
“I definitely think it has made my job easier; we don’t have to rely on one person,” said Cassell. “It is a team effort. If an opponent focuses in on me or another guy, then we have so many more options. So many players have stepped up, we can trust each other to come in and contribute in clutch situations.
“I have been really impressed with some of these young guys,” added Cassell. “They’ve stepped up. When you haven’t played at the varsity level before, it is tough. It is something new — a quicker game, a stronger game. They’ve really impressed me how they’ve stepped up. They’ve made it easier for our main players, relieving some of the work load off of our shoulders. Hopefully that can keep that up and keep improving.”
Even with the other players, Cassell is typically the target of the opposition’s best efforts. It isn’t something he shies away from, however.
“It is tough sometimes, but I just play like I always do; I don’t try to change too much,” said Cassell. “I don’t get flustered that easy; I try to stay calm and set an example for my team. I try not to get too up or down. I always go out, play hard and see what happens.
“I think they look to me when we need a play, and I don’t mind that at all,” Cassell said of his teammates. “I was voted a co-captain by them, and it is my responsibility. It is something I expect — when we’re in a clutch situation, I want to get the ball and help my team out.”
As good as Cassell’s play has been, he isn’t letting up. He plans on achieving bigger and better things, starting with this weekend.
“I don’t feel like I’ve reached my full potential,” Cassell said. “I’m going to keep working this offseason to get even better. I’m aiming higher next year because I feel I have room to improve and areas in which I can grow.”
Saturday’s Regional Final was a marked achievement for Mount Vernon, which opened the season with a three-game loss to Hilliard Davidson at home. To beat the Wildcats on their home court in four games shows just how much this team has improved.
“This has been a tremendous season, how far we’ve come,” said Cassell. “ At the beginning of the year, we hadn’t played together a lot, but as the season’s progressed, the teamwork and communication has increased so much. We wanted to make a point that the first match was a fluke, and that we can play better than that. I think we definitely did that.”
Preparing to face Cincinnati Elder, the defending Division I state champion, the Jackets are hoping to use their past experience to make them better. Many of these players were around the program when the Jackets made it to the state quarterfinals in 2007, but only one — Cassell — saw much playing time.
“I remember going in as a freshman, I was a lot littler and didn’t have as much experience,” noted Cassell. “I started and I was really nervous. I got rattled; once I started playing, I realized it was an important game, but it was still just a game. I had to just play well and put the pressure aside. The experience definitely helped me. Now I kind of know what’s going on and, hopefully, get better results this time.”
With one two seniors on the roster — Chris Hinger and Corey Sheller — Cassell and his teammates have had to step up their play. Hinger and Sheller have provided valuable leadership, but this squad wins and loses as a team.
“They are our two seniors and I look up to them,” said Cassell. “They play a huge leadership role for us, and my experience playing really helps. We tried to combine that and make it a group effort to lead the team, and that has worked. We learned when one person tries to lead, it doesn’t work. When we all get together and perform well, that’s when we do amazing and play at our best. If one person tries to stand out, we aren’t better than any other team in the state, but when we get together, we can really improve ourselves.”
Saturday’s game against Elder will start at 2 p.m. at Walsh Jesuit High School.