Coach Jay Watterworth will be the first to admit he sets the bar high when it comes to expectations for his Philip Simmons High School girls volleyball team.
The Iron Horses’ goal is to win the state championship – every year. It’s so ingrained in him that he probably has the date of next year’s state title game already circled on his calendar.
The Iron Horses entered the Class AAA Lower State Championship with a 13-game winning streak. But Camden ended the streak and the Iron Horses’ dream with a 3-2 victory on Oct. 31. Wren won the state title with a victory over Camden.
The great expectations were not met, but there were plenty of exclamation points along the way, including a 37-8-3 record, seven all-region players, including the player of the year, two all-state selections and one North-South player. All that was missing was a partridge in a pear tree.
“I told the team that if you would have told me this team would win over 30 games and reach the Lower State Championship after losing five seniors from last year’s team – I would have taken that any day of the week,” Watterworth said. “The team exceeded all expectations all year. I couldn’t be any prouder of them.”
The postseason awards list sounds like a who’s who of the top Philip Simmons’ volleyball list as the Iron Horses had seven players receive Region 8-AAA honors, including player of the year Jaiden Rohs. The other honorees were Peyton Tribolet, Bridget Fei, Dani Gehringer, Merritt Menis and Sophia Wirsing.
Rohs and Tribolet earned all-state honors while Tribolet was the fourth Iron Horse volleyball player in the program’s young history to play in the North-South All-Star Game.
Last year’s team went 38-5-2 and won the Lower State Championship before dropping a 3-0 decision to Wren in the state championship. The team lost five seniors to graduation. The lofty record this year and last has helped produce a healthy 114-22-5 record over the last four seasons.
Watterworth says the program doesn’t rebuild, it remodels. And the difference in the chemistry in last year’s and this year’s was noticeable. Yet, there was a common denominator.
“The girls have bought into the system,” Watterworth said. “They know the weight room and stretching are just as important to what happens around the net. This group, like the other teams, love to play volleyball. They love volleyball so much they would play it every day if they could.”
Watterworth has been the only coach of the program, which first fielded a varsity team in 2017. The Iron Horses own an impressive 159-53-6 record, which is even more impressive considering 22 of those defeats came in the program’s first two seasons.
The “We don’t rebuild, we remodel” mantra will continue in 2024.
“We have five seniors and two were starters,” Watterworth said. “We have 80 percent of our starting lineup coming back. I’m very much looking forward to next year.”