FAIRMONT – Change can be intimidating, but it’s also often a good thing.
For East Fairmont High junior Somer Stover, after earning the 2018 Times West Virginian Volleyball Player of the Year honors, change may not have sounded so good.
But with first-year head coach Giget Kuroski taking over the program — who also happens to be Stover’s mom and the former middle school coach for her daughter and her current teammates — change was inevitable. And it also turned out pretty well for Stover and the Bees.
Stover would finish the year with 326 kills, 118 digs, 35 aces, 24 blocks, and a 97.7 serving percentage — her proficiency on the attack would help lead the Bees to a 25-win campaign, which is the winningest season for the program in recent years. Her performance this fall was enough to earn her Times West Virginian Volleyball Player of the Year honors for the second-consecutive season.
“It means a lot. I put in a lot of work and it’s great to be recognized,” Stover said.
The change that led to Stover and East Fairmont’s successful season was quite simple, but it had a huge effect on just how efficient the team was on the offensive end of the floor — that boost is easily reflected in Stover’s stats, as she tallied 146 more kills in 2019 than she did during her previous campaign.
“She’s always been a dominant player since she began playing, but with her being so tall she’s dominant up front. One thing I changed when I took over this year, is that they had previously only had her playing the outside hitter position, and whenever she was up front they’d transition her outside. I didn’t switch them up, so when she was moved into the middle I let her hit,” Kuroski said.
The opportunity to spend more time in the middle opened up Stover’s game, putting her closer to the center of the action and allowing her to play a more dynamic role in the team’s offense. Stover also feels it gave her more of a chance to step into a leadership role for the Bees on the court.
“I feel like in the middle you get more of a chance to block, and you get a lot more sets. To get an outside set you the ball has to be closer to the outside, where as you when you play in the middle you get a lot more shots at kills,” she said.
“A good middle also helps the team come together — they can see spots that are left open, communicate to the setter better, and you’re in the center of the play. It’s a great role to help bring the team together better.”
Of course, as with any talented player, it wasn’t just the schemes and strategies that allowed her to excel — she has spent plenty of time perfecting her craft on the court, and developing into a tougher, all-around player. This off-season, Kuroski had Stover and her teammates set their sights on improving their timing and approach on offense, specifically.
“The biggest thing I tried to do was, across the board with the team, was going back to the fundamentals. The main thing with her and the rest of the hitters was that balls were going out because of their timing. We worked on that a lot this year. Really getting back to timing the approach — they were all really slow and they were swinging from the shoulder, so they couldn’t get their hands down on the ball. After you fix that it’s easy to put down a kill,” Kuroski said.
“We worked with the setter a lot more on placement, and I would stay after practice a lot and hit multiple balls. We definitely had to work on our timing and the approach, we worked on defense on where we needed to be so the court was full covered. Communication and timing really plays a big part,” Stover said.
Another facet of the game where Stover showed her skill this fall was versatility, as she demonstrated her ability at filling each and every role on the court when necessary. There were many times during the season that it appeared there wasn’t a job on the court that she couldn’t handle — which is exactly the type of mentality Kuroski likes to see in her players.
“Really it’s that diversity to be able to play anywhere on the court. She’s a captain and a team leader, and she really is a universal player regardless of where she is on the court. Every person has a position on the court, but you don’t just have one role — you’re not just a hitter, you’re not just a passer, and regardless of where you are you have to be expected to fulfill any role on the court,” Kuroski said.
“She’s always on her toes and she’s versatile and can adapt to those different positions very quickly. And that’s important because if you even hesitate, it’ll be too late.”
Stover said she welcomes the opportunity to train for any position on the floor or any skill set needed, as she understands after years of playing the game at both the travel and prep varsity level that you have to expect anything to happen during a game.
“A lot of people think they should go do drills just for the position they play. I always try to go and work on skills that aren’t associated with my main position that way if I ever get put into that situation I know I can do it,” she said.
“It’s a lot in your mindset. It’s best not to think about it. Just see what you have to do, accept it, and try to do your best. Wherever you’re needed, you need to be able to step into that role immediately and play it — you can’t be afraid to make mistakes, you just have to play your hardest.”
Stover was also honored on the All-Big 10 Conference first team and Class AA all-state second team for her performance this season. Kuroski was pleased to be able to play a role in her daughter’s athletic accomplishments as her coach, and is excited to continue to play a part in Stover’s journey.
“It’s awesome to be able to step up and be able to coach her during her last two years and potentially help her get to the collegiate level, and it’s pretty amazing to see what she’s done. The biggest thing is, and it’s so rewarding, but most of these girls that make these awards are ones from teams that go to the state tournament. To see her recognized for her play by all these coaches is awesome,” Kuroski said.
“I think it was one of the best seasons I and my team have had yet and I couldn’t have done it without my team and my mom. They’re the reason I am where I am today and I thank them for it,” Stover said.