After losing to rival Dover High School (DHS) in the state championship game last year, the Oyster River High School (ORHS) Unified Volleyball team is back this spring, winning a rematch against DHS in their first game of the season.
Following a 2-1 win against DHS on Wednesday, April 12th, the 22 players and partners, as well as the new head coach, Jake Baver, of the ORHS Unified Volleyball team, are gearing up for their 2023 season, all while maintaining positive mindsets and a strong sense of community. The team continues to strengthen their skills in practice and hopes to have a supportive crowd at their home opener on Tuesday, April 18th at 4:00 pm.
Baver, who is also head honcho of the Writing Center, is looking forward most to “the laughs, the fun, [and] the points that make everyone on the team really excited.” For Baver, “[it’s] being there, on the court,” that truly marks the beginning of their season.
While the team expressed nervousness before their first game, the overwhelming response was how comfortable they felt as a team after just a few practices, mainly because of the sense of community they’ve built. “My favorite part of playing with this team is just how supportive and positive everybody is. We’re always cheering for each other and helping everybody out,” says Jordyn March (‘23), a senior on the team.
Megan Moody (‘23) has been a partner on the unified soccer and basketball teams since her sophomore year, however, this is her first year on the volleyball team. Moody has found that her fifth and final season of unified sports is no different from the rest, something she cites as a “very rewarding experience.” Moody, like many of her teammates, finds that “even when I’m not playing, just watching [the game], I’m always smiling.”
This season marks Baver’s first as head coach, his main goal being to help the team improve their “fundamental skills” of verbal communication and serving while balancing a non-competitive, positive environment—which he accomplishes with the assistance and expertise of paraeducator Lucas Fisher. Baver mentions that “yes, we want to win. But moreover, we want to make sure we’re being safe and having a lot of fun.”
As a former high school athlete and a current soccer coach, Baver has had plenty of experience with the more competitive nature of high school sports. “I hope that people are leaving [our] practices feeling rejuvenated, which I know for a fact in other cases with other sports, you leave practice sometimes and you’re tired and drained. So, it’s a nice sort of spectrum of coaching that I’ve always really enjoyed doing, and now I have the space and time to do it more.”
The larger size of the team makes it more difficult for everyone to get equal playing time, something Baver is continuing to work on as the season progresses. While Baver has found that the nature of rotations in the sport will make it easier for everyone to have playing time, he mentioned that the partners on the team are there to support the players, which sometimes means less time on the court. “The partners know that participating, while that’s awesome for them, is not as important as making sure that when the athletes are participating, they’re feeling safe and supported and comfortable,” Baver says.
Moody embraces that sentiment, saying, “we all have very positive attitudes towards this sport. We uplift each other even when things aren’t going well.” Supporting one another doesn’t have boundaries of just the ORHS team, it includes everyone on the opposing team as well. As Baver puts it, “you’re cheering for everybody.”
During Mitchell Warden’s (‘23) first year on the unified volleyball team, ORHS took home the state championship against Dover. The next year, Dover took home the first-place plaque. This season, Warden’s last, the team wants to break that championship tie—a balancing act of having fun, being okay with making mistakes, and competing to win.
“[DHS is] obviously going to get better as the season goes on, and we need to as well if we want to beat them in the championship,” says Warden, who believes the determining factor last year came down to communication. So, this year, it’s especially important that the team “takes what separated us from the championship last year” and improves, Warden mentions.
The team found that their win against DHS solidified the tone for the rest of the season. Dominic Gianino (‘25), a second-year player, says “we had a good first game, we just have to keep that motivation going.”
While there is an evident hunger to avenge their loss to DHS in last year’s finals, Warden says that “regardless of what happens at the end of the season, we can be thankful for the opportunities and all of the fun times we had.”
The Unified Volleyball team’s home opener is this Tuesday at 4:00 pm against Franklin High School. Baver says the team would love to see a packed gym, something he thinks would help the ORHS fan section “get their bearings again,” after losing steam through the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s really fun to lose your voice cheering in a game, and I don’t think we’ve had that energy in a long time,” Baver says. It will be a “cool space for [the Unified Volleyball] fan section to find itself again.”
– Grace Webb