Led by three of the most talented volleyball players ever to come out of the Twin Counties, Emory & Henry’s volleyball team is having one of its best seasons in recent memory.
After a three-set victory Oct. 11 at Randolph College, the Wasps were 15-6 overall and 5-2 in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference, a marked improvement from last year’s team that finished 14-13 overall. Second-year head coach Dan Clotfelter attributes much of that success to seniors Kim Caudill and Jamie Cockerham and talented sophomore setter Maleah Neely.
As freshmen, Caudill, a Carroll County High School graduate, and Cockerman, a Galax High grad, joined Gate City’s Tessa Burton to bring new life into the program. Now seniors, Clotfelter said those three have helped lay down the foundation for not only a successful season, but for future teams.
“I think that is part of the reason this year has been successful, the three seniors were part of the group that said ‘We want this program to be a leader in the ODAC,’” Clotfelter said. “They are concerned about what happens after they are gone and their legacy, and that is pretty cool to have in a group of young people.”
And while the Wasps do have a lot of returning players, he also credits talented youngsters like Neely with providing E&H with a spark. A two-time Southwest District Player of the Year at Carroll County, Neely leads the ODAC with 9.58 assists per set, including a season-high 46 against William Peace College on Sept. 2.
“Maleah has brought athleticism to the setter position and made us more consistent there. We have gelled as a group with her setting,” Clotfelter said. “She played a little last year, but adjusting to the faster pace of the college game was the biggest thing for her. This year we’ve had a few matches where we hit above .350 as a team, which means your setter is doing the right thing.”
Caudill is currently seventh in the ODAC in blocks with 0.74 per set. An All-ODAC honorable mention selection as a sophomore, the Carroll grad provides E&H with one of the most athletic and versatile middle hitters in the conference.
“Kim is a great athlete. I’ve told her any times if I had her as a freshman I would have moved her from middle to outside. She is an undersized middle, but she is such a good defensive player when she gets a chance and she has good passing form,” Clotfelter said. “She is just a great athlete and really quick. To have that type of athlete playing middle for you makes you a dynamic team. She is up among leaders in blocks in the ODAC even though she is one of smallest middles because she is so quick from side to side.”
Caudill is also peaking at the right time, Clotfelter said, as she had one of her best games recently against Marville. In that game, the E&H senior threw down eight kills in just 21 swings.
“We are such a diversified offense that any given night somebody gets hot and we are in good shape,” Clotfelter said. “That was her night to be on, which was great because they are a good defensive team.”
Cockerham continues to play at the torrid pace that led to her selection on the All-ODAC second-team a year ago as an outside hitter. She currently leads the conference in kills with 276 and provides the Wasps’ offense with power every time she takes the court. Cockerham was named ODAC Player of the Week on Sept. 4 after setting a career-high with 26 kills against William Peace.
“She has been our most consistent performers over the past two years,” Clotfelter said. “She just has a huge right arm and brings instant street cred to the offense with the way she hits the ball. Opponents have to respect her, and it opens up the offense for everybody else.”
Clotfelter said he’s been fortunate to have good players from Carroll County and Galax come through the program. He said it’s an area he will continue to recruit hard in the future.
“I think part of it is they had good high school coaches, both Rose Houk and Cindy Edwards really care about their program and you see it and hear it at their matches,” Clotfelter said. “Their kids still come and watch them play, so they obviously care about their program. I’ve already seen both teams play this year because those are places that have brought good kids to our program already and we will be looking for more.”
As for what’s left of the 2012 season, Clotfelter said the team set two goals at the start of the year. The first was to host an ODAC Tournament game. That honor only goes to the top four teams in the conference, something this group of seniors has never done. As of Thursday, E&H was tied for fourth in the ODAC with Virginia Wesleyan. The other goal was to win an ODAC playoff game.
“We have five ODAC games left so we have to finish strong host a game,” Clotfelter said. “This team has the potential. When we are on, no one has stopped us yet, so it’s exciting to be a team that has that type of potential.”
Those are two goals Caudill said have always been on her mind since entering Emory as a freshman.
“Since I’ve been here we haven’t made it to the second round of the ODAC. And ever since we were freshmen our goal was to always make it to that next round. I feel like if any year, this would be our year to do it,” Caudill said. “To host an ODAC game would really help us out a lot because our home fans would be there.”
And doing it with her old teammates and rivals would be a great way to end her career, said Caudill, who played at Carroll with Neely and on travel teams in high school with Cockerham. She said this year’s team definitely has a special bond.
“It’s funny because Jamie and I always played against each other in high school, and back then I never would have guessed Jamie and Maleah and I would be together on the same team. But I love having people from back home with me,” Caudill said. “We were friends before, but now we have a really cool bond most people don’t get to have. Maleah and I have played together forever. I have my best friends together on the court again with me, so it’s an awesome experience.”
For Neely, having the opportunity to be reunited with Caudill on a collegiate court has been wonderful. Likewise, she’s found it’s much better to be Cockerham’s teammate than opponent.
“Being able to play with Kim again is a lot of fun. We sort of have this telepathy thing going because we know where the other one is going to be and we end up saying the same things a lot of times,” Neely said. “I love playing with Kimmie because she has a lot of energy. And playing with Jamie instead of being across the net from her is a lot of fun. Now I get to set her instead of being the one being hit at, so it’s a lot of fun playing with both of them.”
Watching how Caudill, Cockerham and Burton handle themselves as seniors has not only made a difference to Neely, she believes the group has laid the foundation for the Wasps to continue to be a rising program in the ODAC.
“These three seniors have played a huge part in getting a lot of recruits to come here. Jamie and Kimmie were part of the reason I choose to come because I knew them and how they played, and I just felt comfortable,” Neely said. “Not only me, but some of the freshmen this year were convinced to come here because of the way they present themselves, the way they represent the school and how much passion they have for volleyball. So even though they won’t be here next year, I feel they played a huge part in getting the girls to commit here.”