MOUNT VERNON — Alan Cassell is facing one of the hardest challenges in his coaching career.
Cassell coached the Mount Vernon Yellow Jackets boys volleyball team to a 24-4 record, a third-place finish in the state tournament and a final ranking of fifth in the final state poll. This year, he’s going to try again — with one returning starter.
“This is a great group of guys on the team,” Cassell said. “If we don’t make it back to state I’ll be disappointed.”
Last year’s group included Ohio Player of the Year Carter Cassell and All-Ohio player Ben Bennett. Altogether, six solid seniors from the Jackets’ record-setting 2010 campaign are gone.
The lone starter left: Chris Omahan.
In fact, Omahan is the only player on the roster with any varsity experience.
“He’s taken on a leadership role,” Cassell said of Onahan. “He can do it all. He’ll be the guy they turn to.”
“He’s become our leader on the court,” senior Ethan Beckholt said of Omahan. “He talks to us, directs us. He’s been there before.”
It’s not like Omahan is the only talented senior on the team. He’ll be joined by Beckholt, Steve Barcus, Josh Beougher, Ben Robinson, Caleb Sinzinger and Korey Bielicki, all of whom were solid last year at the jayvee level.
“They were the best in the state (last year),” Cassell said. “They have experience together, and they bring that teamwork to this level.
“I’m very pleased with the work ethic and attitude these seniors are bringing,” Cassell continued. “These seniors came into the program as freshmen at the same time I started coaching, and I have enjoyed watching them grow.”
Each one will play the same role they played in jayvee ball. Bielecki will make kills from the outside. Beckholt will play an important role handling the right side. Barcus expects to see the ball in most offensive plays.
“I’m the setter,” Barcus explained. “That’s what I do. That’s what I’m good at.”
It’s what he’s really good at, making few errors since joining the team. Ironically, he didn’t start setting until two years ago.
“Coach sent me in one day and said ‘You’re setting,’ and I said, ‘Okay.’”, Barcus said. “I’ve been doing it ever since.”
A small junior class will compliment the seniors at the varsity level this year. In 2010, Cassell only had to go seven deep. This year, he’ll rely on the juniors to help out.
Brian Downs and Dan Eddy will supplement the defense. Cole Shoemaker and Josiah Burney expect to contribute at the net.
Rounding out the varsity roster is sophomore middle hitter Aaron Nixon.
If the Jackets really are as good as last season, they’ll have plenty of chances to prove it. They’ll once again have perennial powers such as Centerville and St. Edward on their schedule, and with a trip to the Centerville Elite 8 tournament, they’ll meet up with schools such as Cincinnati Moeller.
“Even though this is a building year for our program, I feel it is important to schedule the elite teams in Ohio to help us prepare for the tournament,” Cassell said.