West Liberty-Salem volleyball team forced to be road warriors

High school coaches would wan to avoid a steady diet of road games to start the season. But at West Liberity-Salem, first-year volleyball coach Annie Kauffman has been presented with an even tougher challenge: six straight weeks of road games and practices.

Construction at WLS has delayed the start of the school year until Sept. 19. The Tigers have been busing to Riverside for workouts since Aug. 1 and won’t have a home game until Sept. 17 — that is, if the project finishes on time.

“We’re staying positive and trying to make the most out of it,” Kauffman said. “I’m proud of the girls because we’ve had to overcome a lot of adversity with the things we’ve been handed.”

The Tigers are off to a 2-3 start while trying to rebuild a program that lost six seniors, including 6-foot-3 All-Ohio hitter Jamie Peterson, a University of Dayton recruit.

Kauffman, who has worked in the Logan County prosecutor’s office for two decades, was a JV coach at Bellefontaine for three years before pursuing the WLS job. She admits the lack of established players was a little daunting, but her coaching friends encouraged her to pursue it.

“I felt like it was a good fit for me personally,” she said. “We go to church in West Liberty. My husband is an alumni from West Liberty. I coached several of the girls in the (Champaign County) Sharks, so I had some ties to the program. I’m not sure I would have had that excitement to go with any other school.”

She works full-time as a diversion officer with first-time adult felony offenders.

“Volleyball is a stress reliever for me,” she said. “To be around positive people that are law-abiding and don’t constantly need a certain kind of supervision is nice.”

The Tigers have just one senior in the lineup, Olivia Ames, who plays the libero spot and leads the team in digs.

“She’s a fiery player and has a lot of knowledge,” Kauffman said. “She’s a fantastic passer, and her defense is pretty stout as well.”

Sophomores Tory Cordell and Kaylee Harrison are the middle hitters. The two outside hitters are freshmen, Alex Burton and Sydnee Payer.

Despite the youth, Kauffman said: “On a good day, I don’t think there’s a team we can’t compete with.”

One of the victories in a 2-3 start this year came against Bellefontaine, which put Kauffman in an awkward position since she had coached virtually every opposing starter.

“It was very emotional for me. They wanted to win against me, and it was definitely intense,” she said. “I knew their strengths and weaknesses, but they also had an advantage from having played for me before.

“The West Liberty girls were fired up, though. They wanted to prove to me that they had my back.”

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