Venice vball bench

Venice volleyball junior varsity standouts like Alexa Picciano (No. 30) and Alex Council (No. 15) joined the varsity team to get a taste of the playoffs from the bench.

The Venice High volleyball team had a unique look this season, but that’s likely to change soon.

It’s rare for a freshman to start for the Lady Indians, but two — Brighton Ferguson and Charley Goberville — were mainstays in the everyday lineup throughout the season.

Some talented new players are expected to arrive next season, too, as the junior varsity team went undefeated this year under coach Jose Velez.

Aside from Goberville, though, there wasn’t a go-to outside hitter on the varsity squad.

Paden Keller and Leah Bartlett sparked the offense as middle hitters, but if an attack was coming from the outside, it was likely coming from Goberville.

Still, the Indians made it work as 5-foot-4 do-it-all player Ireland Ferguson played some outside hitter and fooled opponents with placement and touch and others, like Alayna Prachar and Jayda Lanham, came up big in moments, too.

Though Venice couldn’t make it all the way this year, it finished strong.

The Indians went 22-8, won the district for a 20th-straight season and lost to eventual-state champion Plant in three close sets in the regional final.

Looking forward, there’s only reason to be optimistic.

There will be key losses in Keller, Ireland Ferguson, Prachar and Maylee Lanham, but several other starters return, along with some former JV players.

The last time the junior varsity team went undefeated, that group went on to win the state championship in 2017.

“I told coach Brian (Wheatley) when I started with him in 1995 was that the reason why MLB teams are so successful is because of their farm system,” said Velez, who played Minor League Baseball with the Texas Rangers. “If we can do something like that, we can have that success, too.”

The junior varsity team was taken to three sets — JV plays best-of-three matches — just twice this season, and Velez said the team boasted several talented players, including outside hitter Alex Council, libero Elizabeth Mopps and middle hitter Alexa Picciano.

Add some of these call-ups to hopeful returnees like Bartlett, Goberville, Brighton Ferguson, setter Ashley Reynolds, outside hitter/defensive specialist Jayda Lanham, outside hitter Hillary Hupp and outside hitter Charlotte Herman, and Venice could be even more dangerous in 2022.


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