With a new coach and a new season comes high expectations for the Eastern Kentucky University Volleyball team.
First year head coach Johnna Fouch is taking over a program that won five games last season, but she is focused on the road ahead.
“We’re a very enthusiastic, fun team,” Fouch said. “I think we have a lot of personality and character so it should be fun to see the girls personalities employed on the court. I think from our coaching staff too we have a lot of fun personalities as well so we’re a good balancing act. All the fans will enjoy it and see fun EKU volleyball, but also a team working really hard and getting better.”
Fouch was an assistant under former head coach Lori Duncan before she decided to retire after 21 years.
“I think being an assistant, my role was to be the positive one and try to up lift the girls especially with someone who had been here for 21 years,” she said. “I learned a lot of things too with how she ran things and then with my experiences in volleyball as well to bring all those together. She definitely helped me to be where I am today.”
The transition for many coaches can be tough, but for Fouch it’s been easier thanks to already knowing the program, players and staff at EKU.
“The transition has been pretty easy,” she said. “The nice part for me is that I kinda knew how everything worked with the admin. and I knew the girls already so I didn’t really need to dive into that piece. Once I’ve got my staff hired it’s been nice that we’ve sat down and talked about what we want to do and how I want to run things. I think it has been going good so far.”
Fouch describes her coaching style as positive, but fiery at times to motivate and help her players improve.
“I would say I’m positive, but I get on them too,” Fouch said. “For me I think it is all about building those relationships with the girls and making sure they understand why they’re doing things and as a staff we’re trying to establish when they make a move like why did you do that or what can you do better and understanding the game more.”
“I’m a little fiery but at the same time I try to be positive with them.”
Senior leadership is evident this season as the Colonels have five seniors on the roster - Katelynn Caserma-Kloeble, Kennedy Wilson, Rachel Woody, Clairissa Hankinson and Kaylin Johnson.
“It’s very important,” Fouch said about this year’s senior leadership. “I think coming from a tough season last year my main goal was to keep them in that positive tunnel. ‘Hey forget about it, we’re on to new and better things’
so for them it’s kind of grasping and getting a hold of what we’re teaching and committing to that so that they can make this last year their best year.
One stand out senior to watch this season is Woody.
Woody finished last season with 20 or more assists in 14 matches, had a season-high 51 assists and 25 digs against Tennessee State and had nine double-doubles. She had a team-high 563 assists on the year and was fourth on the team with 183 digs.
“I think for Rachel she is going to run the show,” Fouch said. “Rachel is a captain and we have a sophomore that is a captain too so having that older and younger leadership I think to make it so everyone is a leader on their own.”
The Murrieta, California native is coming back from a knee injury her sophomore year and says her knee has improved tremendously.
“I’m not the same player I was before I got injured and I don’t think I ever will be, but I think trying to find who I am on the court now has been a big thing for me and in the summer and preseason I’m finding more about who I am,” Woody said.
She is excited for the season, but doesn’t want her collegiate career to end.
“It’s so surreal, I feel like yesterday I was helping move myself into the dorms and now I’m helping all the freshmen move in and they’re staying at my house like ‘what is going on.’ It’s definitely exciting and bittersweet and I don’t want it to end but I’m happy I have Johnna as my coach for this last year.”
The team chemistry is strong according to Woody and she hopes that shows this season on the court.
“I think having two of our transfers (Dena Tekavec from Florida Atlantic and Jovana Bulatovic from Western Illinois) coming in the spring definitely helped us build on that serenergy off the court and bring it into preseason this year and having the freshmen stay with us during the summer. We got to bond with them a lot more before the preseason and I think that helped.”
The Colonels’ home opener is set for Sep. 17 against Marshall.
Woody wants to see everyone come out and support the team.
“I want everyone to see how different the program is from last year and for everyone to have fresh eyes on what they’re looking at. I’m really excited for that.”
Eastern will face Western Kentucky for the first time since 1998 when the Colonels travel to Bowling Green on Sep. 10.
“I’m very excited,” Fouch said about the WKU match. “When I was trying to schedule our season for the year I really wanted to bring back that in-state rivalry. None of these girls have ever played Western and since I’ve been here we haven’t either, so I think it will be fun. The more that we can continue to play Kentucky schools it can put us back on the map too. You always want
to compete against those types of schools then having to go so far away to compete against a good program... It brings back that rivalry.”