By JUSTIN RAINS
Though the eventual outcome was the same, the 2012 season didn’t follow the script set forth in the last two years for the Cayuga volleyball team.
In the previous two seasons, an offense led by Shawnta Knox steamrolled on to the state tournament, where the Ladycats then came up short.
This year, it wasn’t just Knox leading the way — especially early on — and while Cayuga fell in the state semifinals for the third-straight year, it did so in a decidedly more impressive fashion.
“It’s extremely sad...but when I think back on it this is really my only season to have no regrets,” Knox said. “Yes there were losses and we ended badly, but I still don’t regret anything about the season.”
Knox, in her senior campaign, had another stellar year for Cayuga, but early on was battling back from a knee injury sustained in volleyball that left her far from 100 percent.
Enter junior Danielle Anderson, who’d harbored goals of growing in 2012 before Knox’s injury, and was forced into a leadership role after it.
“I knew I’d have to step it up,” Anderson said. “Even if she wasn’t injured, I knew we’d both go out there and do big things. I’d planned on stepping it up a lot this year, no matter what.”
To separate Knox and Anderson for their play in 2012 is difficult, and seems to be a disservice to the Cayuga team dynamic from 2012.
So, for their play during the season, the pair have been named the Dogwood Circle volleyball co-Players of the Year.
The honor is nothing new to Knox, who captures it for the third-straight season. It’s the first time for Anderson, who was the Dogwood Circle Newcomer of the Year in 2010 and a first-team player last year.
The pair — for this season especially — will forever be linked because at different times in the season, each was the team’s on-court leader.
When the season began, Knox wasn’t close to completely recovered from a knee injury suffered during the previous basketball season.
The senior-star tried to gut it out anyway, but was becoming increasingly frustrated by her inability to the standards she set for herself for her own the court play.
“I’m really hard on myself and the fact that I couldn’t perform how I wanted to just wasn’t working,” Knox said. “I was too upset to do what I was capable of, so I had to hand it over instead of try and do something I wasn’t capable of.””
But, as Anderson began to emerge as a legitimate offensive force early on, it helped Knox take a step back and make sure her recovery went according to plan.
“It was really easy to hand it off to Dan, because it came natural to her,” she said. “She was there and it helped me more than the team, to be honest. It helped my confidence about the team.”
For the first time in her career — a career spent playing alongside Knox — Anderson led the Ladycats in kills for the season.
She finished the year with 437 regular-season kills, including a 30-kill performance in a match against Hubbard during the district campaign.
“I had to grow a lot,” she said. “It helped me mature a lot more and made me take on bigger things.”
2012 was the end of the road for Knox’s high school career, a career that saw her lead three-straight teams to Cayuga’s only three state tournament appearances.
Asked to evaluate her place in Cayuga-volleyball history, she had to take pause, saying she’d never thought of it that way.
“I guess it makes me feel good, but I’ve never really thought of it that way. I’ve always just been part of the team,” she said. “I see it as I’ve had the best years of my life on the volleyball court with those girls and just really made my high school career and my high school experience.
“When I think high school, I think volleyball.”
For Anderson, the end is one more year away and — despite the loss of Knox and super-setter Molly Griffey, among others — Cayuga seems primed to at least challenge for yet another trip to the state tournament.
After three-straight trips that ended in disappointment, Anderson said she’s renewed her goals to include bettering herself so that she can lead her team back to state.
“Not only do I want to get 10- or 20-times better, but I also want to help keep pushing my team and let them know that it’s not over just because some seniors have graduated,” she said. “We’re still a solid team.”
NEWCOMER OF THE YEAR
Paige Huff, Fr., Elkhart
When the 2012 season began, Elkhart volleyball coach Katie Lankford had sophomore Megan Davis and freshman Paige Huff splitting time at the setter position.
But, by the time district play rolled around, Huff had made that position all her own.
In a breakout freshman campaign, Huff helped take the Lady Elks back to the playoffs, where they fell in the area round to Sabine.
On the season, she averaged more than 23 assists per match, while also serving for almost two aces per contest as well.
She only adds to the growing youth-movement within the Elkhart volleyball team, as the Elks will hope to return to the postseason in 2013 after losing only one senior this year.
COACH OF THE YEAR
Magen Humphreys, Cayuga
New coach, no problem.
In just her first year at the helm of the Cayuga volleyball program, Magen Humphreys took her squad back to the state tournament, the program’s third-straight trip.
She also helped them continue their winning district tradition, as the Ladycats again didn’t drop a district match for the fourth-straight year.
Cayuga finished the year with an impressive 33-10 record and once again had two all-state players — Knox and Anderson.
Sports editor Justin Rains can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org