October 1, 2014

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Regional volleyball: Amherst coach has Comets back at regionals

Amherst coach Laurie Cogan, right, congratulates former Lorain County Miss Volleyball, Deme Morales. Cogas has built a winning program for the comets and lasting relationships with her players. CHRONICLE FILE

Amherst coach Laurie Cogan, right, congratulates former Lorain County Miss Volleyball, Deme Morales. Cogas has built a winning program for the comets and lasting relationships with her players. CHRONICLE FILE

AMHERST — Laurie Cogan can be relentless. She has high expectations for the Amherst program, and does not allow her players to settle for anything less.

That’s a big reason why the Comets are playing in their seventh regional semifinal match in Cogan’s 23 years in charge.

“On the court she can be your worst enemy… in your ear, chirping constantly, telling you what you’re doing wrong and how to fix it,” senior Mallory Sliman said. “Off the court she’s your mother. She takes care of every one of us every day. On the court she nit-picks, but we know that’s just to make us better.”

Cogan’s main concern is that her players do not settle for less than they could be. She calls “wasted potential” her pet peeve, and expects the same approach from those who suit up for her program.

“She sees things in a player other coaches might not notice, and she works as hard as she can to make sure you live up to that potential,” said Olivia Sliman, who played for Cogan in 2008. “She will not sleep until she gets every ounce of ability out of you, and you can’t help but to become a better volleyball player.”

It all starts in junior high, when younger players in the district come to Cogan’s volleyball camps. At the camps she is not only coaching, she is evaluating. She starts to pay close attention when the seventh-graders hit the floor, hoping to see what kind of players will be coming to Amherst in the near future.

“I can’t look into a crystal ball and see who can and who cannot make it, but I usually don’t miss on many kids,” Cogan said with a grin.

Once those kids hit high school they join a program that most likely will be a part of their lives for a long time.

“She creates bonds with all the players she has,” senior setter Riley Schenk said. “And she’s dedicated to them. She really has a connection with everyone that has come through this program and maintains a relationship with all of them.”

Her current and former players are extremely loyal to her and to the Comets program, mainly because Cogan has earned their respect. There is no real secret as to why — she is consistent and tells the truth.

“If you aren’t living up to coach’s standards, she’ll let you know,” Schenk said. “Wasted potential really bothers her, and I think that’s why we really don’t have very much of that here at Amherst. Everyone that comes through this program knows what it’s about, knows what Coach expects and understands that she has made Amherst volleyball what it is. If you have potential, you aren’t going to waste it with Coach Cogan.”

Mallory Sliman agrees.

“She just wants everyone to perform at their best,” she said. “She really inspires you because she wants everyone to be so good individually because that makes the team better. During the season it’s all about the team, but you still work on your individual skills because you know you have to get better to help the team. Coach really stresses that.

“If you have a question you will get a straight answer from her. You might not always like it, but she will always tell you the truth. She’ll tell you what you have to do to improve, how you have to do it and why you should do it. She gives you the exact answer, doesn’t make you guess about anything.”

This season Cogan has noticed something different about her team, a rare sense of unity that has made her job a lot easier than usual.

“This group loves each other. They are such a strong unit of girls,” Cogan said. “They don’t care who gets their name in the paper and they don’t care about stats — they care about winning. They don’t care about playing time or worry about what position they’re playing. They root for each other. They care for each other and have each others backs.

“I’ve had some very close teams and this is one of the closest groups I’ve ever coached. When you see how much they enjoy each other it makes it so much fun for the coaches to come in here and be around that. It just spreads. They make my job easier and make coming to the gym a lot more enjoyable.”

Though the conference championships and trips to the regional tournament are nice, Cogan has a clear goal every year when she embarks on yet another volleyball season.

“I’ve met a lot of wonderful young ladies,” she said. “I hope in some way, shape or form I have impacted their lives somehow, some way in a positive direction. My goal is simple, if a player has the desire to play past high school, I want to make sure our program does not prevent that from happening. We want to actually help the player move on to the next level.

“I also want them to be proud of this program and know I care about each one of them, regardless of what they did on the court. This really is one big extended family.”

Contact Mike Perry at 329-7135 or macsportstalk@gmail.com.

Division I Regional volleyball

Amherst (22-3) vs. Strongsville (23-3)
WHEN: Tonight, 7:30
WHERE: Brecksville-Broadview Heights High School, 6380 Mill Road, Broadview Heights.
AT STAKE: A berth in Saturday’s regional final against the winner of the Kenston/St. Ursula Academy match.
TICKETS: $6
DIRECTIONS: Take I-480 East to I-77 via Exit 20A-B toward Akron/Cleveland. Merge onto I-77 south via Exit 20B toward Akron. Take Wallings Road exit, Exit 151. Turn left onto Wallings Road. Take first right onto Mill Road. Travel 1.1 miles and the school will be on your right.

AMHERST COMETS
COLORS: Green and Gold
CONFERENCE: Southwestern Conference
COACH: Laurie Cogan
LAST REGIONAL APPEARANCE: Lost to Cincinnati St. Ursula in the 2010 regional final.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Lorain 25-11, 25-6, 25-16. Defeated North Olmsted 25-11, 25-17, 18-25, 25-19. Defeated Elyria 18-25, 25-15, 20-25, 26-24, 18-16 to win the Grafton district championship.
FAST FACT: The Comets were able to complete their Southwestern Conference schedule with a perfect 12-0 record. Their final conference win of the season came on the same floor they will be playing on tonight.
TOP PLAYERS: Senior setter Riley Schenk, a Cleveland State signee, averages 9.1 assists per set. This season Schenk has handled the ball 1,902 times with just 11 errors. Senior hitter Mallory Sliman leads the Comets with 321 kills. Sophomore outside hitter Ashley Makruski was second on the team with 270 kills, while freshman libero Madison Cruzado led the way with 466 digs (5.9 digs per set).

STRONGSVILLE MUSTANGS
COLORS: Green and While
CONFERENCE: Northeast Ohio Conference
COACH: Erick Sopata
LAST REGIONAL APPEARANCE: First appearance in regional tournament.
HOW THEY GOT HERE: Defeated Berea-Midpark 25-9, 25-11,
25-11. Defeated St. Joseph Academy 25-10, 25-14, 25-18. Defeated Magnificat 25-27, 22-25, 25-22, 25-9, 15-8.
FAST FACT: Strongsville is riding a 15-match winning streak and has not lost a best-of-five match this season. The Mustangs lost twice to St. Ursula and once to Lake Catholic in best-of-three matches.
TOP PLAYERS: Kelsey Bittinger, a 6-foot senior outside hitter, had 293 kills and 294 digs during the regular season. She had 30 digs and 20 kills in the Mustangs’ five-set district final win over Magnificat. Jackie Fabec, a 5-11 senior middle/outside hitter, had 30 kills against Magnificat. She had 217 kills during the regular season. Senior setter Andi Mott led the Mustangs with 607 assists during the regular season. She handed out 60 assists in the Magnificat match.

SCOUTING REPORT: Both teams proved to be resilient, putting together stirring comebacks to win their respective district championships. Amherst was down 24-16 to Elyria, already down two games to one, before reeling off 10 straight points to come back. They then were able to win the fifth game, 18-16. Strongsville was down to Magnificat, 2-0 in sets before winning three straight to win the district crown. The Mustangs got stronger as the match wore on, outscoring Magnificat 40-17 in the final two sets.