When Vicky Veloz took over the Foundation Academy volleyball program, she understood the challenge ahead of rebuilding a program that had recently — in 2012 and 2013 — played for state championships in Class 2A.
With a youthful roster, the Lions saw some positives in 2017, finishing the season at 6-10.
This fall, though, the program at Foundation has ramped things up — the Lions have already doubled that win total and are 13-7 as of Oct. 8 with two matches remaining. A trio of seniors — setter Caitlin Rumbaugh, libero Sydney Mumm and outside hitter Anna Grace Williams — have led the way, building upon foundations laid last fall and during club season, where they chose to play for Veloz’s Five Star Volleyball Club.
“They were really supportive — to the point that they played club (volleyball) for me,” Veloz said. “They wanted to get better for this season.”
Those extra repetitions for the girls have paid dividends for the Lions, and particularly its senior core, on multiple levels. For one starters, the chemistry between one another is better than ever.
“We’ve gotten super close and I think it’s also helped us on the court,” Mumm said. “Anna Grace and Caitlin have really good communication — Caitlin knows exactly the sets that Anna Grace wants.”
Not only did they gain familiarity with one another, but the girls were able to get a better feel for their second-year coach.
“It definitely helped because we got to know Coach Vicky more and her coaching style,” Williams said. “She’s very intentional about correcting what you do wrong and she likes winning. She corrects us and is encouraging at the same time.”
It is against that backdrop that the Lions arrived for fall practice back in early August, and it didn’t take long for the team to notice something had improved this time around.
“I think the first official practice with all of our team members was probably the first time I realized it,” Rumbaugh said. “We were practicing, kind of scrimmaging, and we had some really good plays that were representative of how we’re playing now — we had a really good flow and we work well together.”
Foundation Academy won 10 of its first 12 matches this season, before a mid-season tournament where it suffered four of its seven losses. Still, with the win total from 2017 already doubled, Veloz and her girls feel good about where they stand as district tournaments loom.
“(The seniors) have been a key to our success, for sure,” Veloz said. “We’ve got a lot of younger players … and they’re always looking at them.”
Included among those talented younger players are Maddie Seip, a junior, and Gracie Allen, a freshman. The underclassmen have benefited not just from talented senior teammates, but from a positive energy up and down the roster.
“I just think the chemistry and the attitudes are, overall, more positive,” Williams said.
The Class 3A, District 3 Tournament will begin Oct. 15 and be hosted at Foundation. With that opportunity to make the postseason ahead of them, the Lions are hoping to capitalize and build on some of the achievements that are behind them. Early in the season, between Aug. 30 and Sept. 11, the Lions won three close matches that went the full five sets, including a particularly memorable — and emotional — match Sept. 11 against First Academy-Leesburg.
Just days after the auto accident involving Foundation Academy football player Bailey Trinder that rocked the campus community, the Lions found themselves in five-set match and trailing 12-4 in the final set, which goes to 15 instead of 25. There was no margin for error.
“I think that we all really banded together because we knew that the greater purpose was to try and fight for Bailey,” Rumbaugh said.
With Rumbaugh serving, the Lions went on an 11-0 run to end the set — and the match — for a huge win that was as emotional as it was pivotal.
“It was very important — I’d say it was the turning point for our team where we really, really came together,” Williams said. “Not only for ourselves, but for the school as a whole and for Bailey.”
With those close matches to their credit, and the team having bounced back after a rocky stretch, the Lions are eyeing a return to the postseason for the first time since 2014. To do so, it’ll be a matter of details down the stretch.
“We need to work on our consistency — specifically on defense,” Mumm said. “I think that’ll make all the difference.”