Dave Conley had a lot of “street cred” when he took over the Clay volleyball program this season.
Conley, who coached at Toledo Christian for nine years, won five Toledo Area Athletic Conference titles as the Eagles’ coach. Conly replaced Tracy Donnelly – she moved to Cardinal Stritch - this season and admitted, “You never know for sure when you take a job what the group is going to be like.”
“My expectations for a program and how girls conduct themselves, playing together and building a team with a family atmosphere, are important to me,” Conley said. “We spend a lot of time on those areas.”
What Conley has gotten from the Eagles so far, he said, has been a pleasant surprise.
“This is just a phenomenal group of girls, character-wise, intelligence, I could go down the list,” said Conley, whose team was 9-2 and 3-2 in the Three Rivers Athletic Conference heading into Thursday’s match against visiting Whitmer. “They are very hard working, very hungry. They really came together in the summer. They are very unified, they like each other and there is very little drama.
“I’m lucky I have group of girls who bought into that and are on board with that. It made my job a little easier.”
Clay’s lone losses this season are to Notre Dame Academy and top-ranked (Division I) St. Ursula Academy. The loss to the Arrows was tough to swallow, given that the Eagles won the first set and had a lead in the second set before SUA fought back to take the match.
“When you have some time to digest it, it was a step forward for us,” Conley said. “It gave us even more confidence. At the same time, we expected to win. We’re not satisfied with losing a tight match. It was a great night, a great experience. We’re trying to get back to work and hopefully see them again.”
Conley said the Eagles, who were ranked 19th in the state coaches’ poll a week ago but were unranked this week, are still working on building a more balanced offense. That aspect of the game, he said, began over the summer.
“We’ve been working all season and all summer on expanding our offense,” Conley said. “Our offense is probably still a little behind our defense, which has been really solid. Our back row play is probably our biggest strength. I have a deep rotation of 11-12 players.”
Senior Jill Keller, whom Conley calls “really mature and a good leader and scrappy,” is one of Clay’s top back row players along with juniors Brooke Gyori and Kallie Seimet. Gyori leads the team with 28 aces, and Seimet has 21.
“Brooke is very competitive and is a very good athlete,” Conley said. “They’re all pretty scrappy. Kallie is very smart, very solid in serve receive. She controls the serve game for us and is very good at reading.”
Senior setter Jenna Fredritz leads the team with 349 assists, while fellow co-captain Jillian Keller, a senior DS, has 75 digs.
“Jenna has just done an incredible job running the offense,” Conley said. “She is a quiet leader.”
Clay’s three senior hitters are Shalynn Garmon (outside), Madison Phillips (middle) and Hailey Shields (right side). Garmon has 233 kills, while Shields has 40 kills and Phillips, who at 6-foot is the Eagles’ tallest player, has 33 blocks.
“Shay gets the bulk of our touches,” Conley said. “They’re all very humble and work hard and do what you ask. Shay gets a lot of kills and handles it with a great attitude and is very humble. Madison’s strength is blocking and she does a great job for us. Hailey is a growing part of our offense. Her offensive game has really developed on the right side, and her blocking has really improved.”
Clay’s other standouts include junior defensive specialists Megan Hornyak and Allison Batch, junior middle hitter Connor Phillips and junior outside hitter Grace Winckowski. Batch and Hornyak have 27 and 18 aces, respectively, and Phillips has 11 blocks.
“Megan does a great job coming in and serving,” Conley said. “I guess you could call her our serving specialist. Allison has also done a great job serving for us. She’s good at serving and defense and setting in spots. Connor is a hard worker and is very much improved. She does a great job blocking for us in the middle.”
Winckowski is second on the team with 77 kills.
“She’s a big part of our offense and has really developed as a hitter,” Conley said. “She’s really improved. We were pretty one dimensional at the beginning of the season, with Shalynn on the outside. Grace and Hailey have really grown with the offense as the season has gone along.”