PULASKI — The Pulaski varsity girls volleyball team garnering the accolade of a NYSPHSAA Scholar Athlete Team last winter was more than a hard-earned recognition of academic achievement to coach Sally Wise, it also showed that the young squad was ready to expand its on-court IQ.
The Blue Devils will be operating a sophisticated set of plays this year for the first time in Wise’s four seasons as head varsity coach, which they have implemented throughout an active offseason defined by consensus dedication among the members of the emerging team.
Pulaski was scheduled to open the winter volleyball season earlier this week with a match at Syracuse-Christian Brothers Academy, and will host Cortland at 12:30 p.m. Saturday in its home opener.
“It’s really exciting this year because we have a lot of potential and we’re getting ready to take it to the next level, so we’re working really hard to make those goals,” said senior Cara Reynolds, a third-year varsity player entering her second season as a team captain.
Pulaski was selected for the NYSPHSAA Scholar Athlete Team honors after meeting the standard of at least 75% of team members maintaining a grade-point average of 90 or above throughout the season.
That was the last indicator Wise needed to see before challenging her players with more elaborate offensive sets, and the team has worked on advancement in areas such as shoot sets, two-ball drills, and back slides more than ever before during Wise’s tenure.
“It literally changed the way I coached, because I thought if these guys are scholar athletes, they’re smart kids,” Wise said. “So I started changing some of my coaching philosophies because now I challenge the brain as well as the challenging their skill, and it looks like it’s paid off.”
Wise said that this year’s team looks to be the most potent offensively during her coaching tenure. In addition to the maturation of their offensive schemes, the Blue Devils possess a deep group of aggressive servers and feature versatility among their hitters and setters.
“We’ve brought their offense to a totally different level that they’ve never played before,” Wise said. “The setters are really forward thinking this year, instead of perpetually setting one group of kids, they’re moving the ball around a lot more, which is important for a good offense.”
The Blue Devils lost one senior from last year’s team, which finished 7-11 overall while finishing with only five upperclassmen on the roster. Pulaski has reached the Section 3 Class C playoffs in each of Wise’s three previous seasons but have yet to advance past the first round.
Reynolds will return to help lead the way and is approaching her 500th career assist entering the new season. Allie Magee, another second-year captain who is nearing her 200th career assist, will also help lead the way along with fellow captain Katie Goslow and standout libero Emily Birmingham.
The Blue Devils feature four seniors and will mix in at least five underclassmen as it zeroes in on making a postseason run.
“We have learned to play with confidence and that was one of our main issues in the past,” Reynolds said. “We really worked on it a lot last year and hopefully we can move that toward this year.”
Magee added: “We’re looking to make it our best year yet for our last season of volleyball.”
Pulaski is eager to begin the campaign after recent winter weather conditions forced the cancellation of two preseason scrimmages and the postponement of its original opening match earlier this week.
“I have never seen the volleyball program at Pulaski so excited about a season,” Wise said. “We’ve had two cancelled scrimmages and a cancelled game and they’re bummed out, they’re just like: ‘We want to play.’ I think we’re ready to challenge ourselves and see what we’ve been working for and what we got.”