A little over four years ago, Defiance volleyball coach Brooke Buti was just beginning as head coach. Fast forward to 2011 and Buti is finally seeing the fruition of her labor on the court and with what will be her first class to graduate. Led by a quartet of seniors in Sarah Sanford, Kayle Pasterz, Jade Frederick and Megan Relyea, the Bulldogs (9-8, 2-4 WBL) are turning heads with gritty wins and no-quit attitudes.
"This actually is a very special group to me because these seniors have been with me since I have been here and will be the first to graduate," explained Buti. "I just can't believe they are seniors."
Like a complex puzzle that seems to fit together perfectly, each senior represents a piece in a role designed for them to optimize output for the good of the team.
Pasterz is a co-captain with Sanford and the libero for Defiance, a role she believes, fits her well.
"I find myself as a leader, the person that brings the rest of the team direction," she said. "I think that it fits because of my personality because they know why I am telling them things not to take control but to help them. To be the libero, you have to be a leader but I think having the role has improved my leadership ability. I also think, though, I've always had that leader mentality."
Buti concurs with Pasterz that being libero is the best fit for her.
"From her freshman year she always wanted to be the libero," she stated. "Even in JV when we needed her in the middle front position, that was okay to her, she still tried her hardest. But her goal always went back to being the libero. It takes the right kid to do that but she has been a leader everywhere she has played."
Pasterz is 154-160 serving with eight aces along being 61-61 setting, 398-441 serve receive and has accumulated 249 digs.
It's only fitting that Pasterz and Sanford are the leaders of the team, they are cousins and best friends on and off the court.
"She's one of my best friends off the court, and on, she is probably my biggest supporter," explained Sanford. "We build each other up in the back row saying things like 'you'll get the next ball' after a miss. She is always determined that no ball is ever going to hit the ground. The way she thinks is 'I'm going to get to the ball, make a perfect pass to me and put us in a position to get the ball to the hitters.'
Being cousins has only strengthened their relationship including constructive criticism.
"We know how to treat each other on the court," added Sanford. "If either of us mess up badly we don't yell at them. We can look at each other, not say anything, and we both just know."
While Pasterz leads the defense , Sanford heads up the offense with her all-around presence.
"If you take a kid like Sarah, I can put her in any position and she says 'okay coach I can do it,'" explained Buti. "She's the type of kid that says 'I want to play volleyball and I'll do whatever if it helps the team. Megan and Jade are great role models for our varsity team and for the younger
girls and are unselfish.'"
Pasterz has nothing but good to say about her counterpart.
"I love Sarah to death, of course, because she's in the family," she said. "On the court she's a very strong leader, she is very self motivated and I find that impressive. Off the court, we are DECA partners and very close, only five months apart. We spend a lot of time together."
Sanford's motivation and drive is fueled by her teammates play.
"My team is a big help, with their energy," she said. "If the team is down, it doesn't help me, but when we're positive and things are rolling, it makes everyone want to play a little harder. Sportsmanship is a big key to everything. Also my leadership on the court prepares me for leading down the road, by treating people the right way with a good attitude. "
On the season Sanford is 130-161 serving with 24 aces, 189-226 hitting with 50 kills, 679-689 setting, 209 assists, 63-72 serve receive, 18 blocks and 120 digs.
Frederick's presence in the front row adds an element to the Bulldogs at the net as another strong hitter.
"Definitely my coaches have helped a lot, they're always there to tell you what you are doing wrong and how to fix it," explained Frederick. "In practice we do drills where we just watch the ball and anticipate where it's going, because of that it teaches us to know where to go and how to adjust to it."
Relyea believes Frederick's strongest skill is communication.
"She is a very good athlete and a very good role model," she said. "She talks on and off the court and really keeps everyone's spirits up. If someone is down, she'll tell them 'okay, get the next ball.' She's not afraid to step up and be a leader on the court."
Being so close to the opposition allows Frederick to see whether they are into the game or not.
"If you watch their body language, you can tell," she said. "We try to intimidate them by pointing out how many hitters there are and where they're at and where the setters are. I think for some teams, it bothers them."
Frederick is 57-62 hitting with 10 kills, 11 blocks and 17 digs.
Relyea is the serving specialist with 159-183, 15 aces and 22 digs.
"When you serve, you really have to focus," she said. "I do my best to give nice hard serves and hopefully some aces because that really brings the team up. It gets the momentum going for us."
Reylea's best feature, according to Frederick, is the way she builds her teammates up.
"She always tries to cheer people up," she said. "She's a really good person. She leads through her actions and her words and tries to encourage everyone."
A typical serve for Relyea involves a step by step checklist in her mind.
"I try to get a good toss and put the ball in the best spot," she stated. "If they tell me to hit a certain zone that's usually because they're weakest player is there, so I do my best to hit that zone to, hopefully, score a point."
Buti has been amazed at her team this year, especially their ability to rally back in a tough situation.
"This team just competes, they don't care that they're the underdog, they just want to beat the other team," she said. "They are fighters, we've had some matches where we've been down especially to good teams like Archbold and they come back and win. It's a little scary sometimes what they can do when they want to win badly."
To sum up how she will remember her first class of volleyball players, Buti boils it down to chemistry.
"This is a special group because they have a great love for the sport of volleyball," she concluded. "They work well together and then hang out together after practice or games. I think one of the biggest things with high school girls is how they get along and this team is awesome at that. I think them getting along is huge, because they are not a selfish team."