Bishop Ireton girls’ volleyball prepares for an encore

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Bishop Ireton girls' varsity volleyball teammates receive their Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and VISAA finalist plaque. After an initial victory over Paul VI, the team ultimately lost to Holy Cross and Flint Hill in November 2017. The team ended its season with a 12-4 record. (Photo courtesy Bishop Ireton)
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By Duncan Agnew | dagnew@alextimes.com

Bishop Ireton Volleyball Head Coach Owen Ranger isn’t letting transition lessen his expectations for this fall.

The girls’ varsity volleyball team lost seven key contributors to graduation in June, and an eighth team member moved away. Among those seven graduates were two of the best players in school history, Ranger said.

Despite a seemingly insurmountable loss of talent, Ranger said B.I. volleyball now thrives on a winning culture, and he has high hopes once again.

Purely based on accolades and post-season success, last year’s team was one of the best in Bishop Ireton history. The Cardinals finished as the runner-up in both the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference and the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association, eventually falling to perennial powerhouses Holy Cross and Flint Hill, respectively. After such an impressive 2017 campaign, B.I. faces a new challenge this fall.

“It’ll be a very different style, but I always try to adapt the system to fit the personnel,” Ranger said. “And I think that we’re not the only team that lost significant people in the WCAC, but I think we can still be very competitive both there and in the state.”

Nine players — most of whom comprised the B.I. bench last season — will be returning to the varsity team this fall. After spring open gym sessions, Ranger said he expects several juniors who led the junior varsity team in 2017 to round out the roster.

Ranger said he is fortunate to have the problem of too many players to choose from. Last August, 50 girls competed for about 45 spots on the three Bishop Ireton volleyball teams: varsity, junior varsity and freshman. Ranger said he wouldn’t be surprised to see as many as 60 try out this month.

“I used to coach at a school where I had to beg other sports for their JV cuts sometimes, and now I have to turn girls away, which I never want to do,” Ranger said.

Among other players, Ranger expects senior backrow passers Casey Hoffman and Kaitlin Becht to make an impact this fall. Becht holds the school record for serving percentage, and Hoffman will be a key defensive specialist for the Cardinals. In addition, sophomore setter Taylor Wilmot, B.I.’s only returning player who saw regular game action last season, earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a freshman.

Ranger said he sees every team in the WCAC as a dangerous opponent. Last year, the Cardinals barely hung on to beat last-place Elizabeth Seton, and the seventh-place team actually beat B.I. in five sets.

“It’s tough top to bottom,” Ranger said. “… There are no off nights in the league.”

Ranger, who moved to D.C. in 2006, attended Pepperdine University and took a class in volleyball instruction taught by the school’s legendary men’s volleyball head coach. Outside of that course, the extent of Ranger’s volleyball playing career involved pick-up games at the beach every summer.

“I eventually just found a home with volleyball, even though my playing experience is minimal,” Ranger said. “… But it’s the sport I feel that I coach best.”

Going into his second season as the Bishop Ireton head coach, Ranger gave all the credit for the team’s success to the players.

“The culture has changed enough that [the players] expect to be good on their own without needing to be pushed as much to be good,” Ranger said. “They’ve become a better program all on their own that way.”

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