Athens volleyball players reach milestones

Athens seniors Kayleigh Miller (front, second from left) and Taylor Field (front row, second from right) join with teammates and Head Coach Heather Hanson (Back) to celebrate the milestones reached by the pair.

ATHENS — Not to say that it’s easy, but we’ve often noted the milestone of scoring 1,000 points in basketball over the last few seasons. What’s more rare is topping that milestone on the volleyball court.

Yet two Athens seniors joined the 1,000 club in various aspects of the game during a remarkable postseason run for the Wildcats.

Kayleigh Miller and Taylor Field have been key cogs for Athens’ volleyball teams for the last few years. In the 2020 postseason, each reached key milestones.

Miller finished her high school volleyball career with 1,033 assists. Field topped the 1,000 mark in two statistics with 1,023 digs and 1,038 serve receives.

Miller has been a setter from the start.

“I’ve set since seventh grade,” Miller said. “I’ve always been one of two setters.”

One key for Miller and Field is that the Wildcats have seven seniors with whom they have played since seventh grade.

“It helps a lot,” Miller said of having played with the same crew for so long. “We’re all really close, we’re all friends and we have a good time. Working together is so much easier and this year especially we all came together as a team and accomplished a lot.”

Field also started playing in seventh grade and a fortunate turn of events, for her, saw her move to libero in her sophomore season.

“A player got injured and coach had me step up to play,” Field said. “I was never taken out. I was never a libero before. I was always a setter.”

If the name Wally Pipp popped into your head, join the club.

“With volleyball, like any other team sport, you need that team chemistry,” said Head Coach Heather Hanson. “When you start to play with people you know, you know their tendencies, you know what they’re going to go for, you know what they’re not going to go for and it really helps each other. You get certain balls you would never get before for that reason. You know where each other are on the court.”

It’s also worth noting that until their sophomore season, both Miller and Field had the same role. Splitting their talents as they did helped make the 2020 season — in which Athens reached the District 2/4 Class AAA final — what it was. The last time Athens had reached a district final was 2005 when Athens topped Wellsboro 3-2 and advanced to the state playoffs. The Wildcats’ run at states was short as Athens was bounced in the first round by Schuylkill Valley that year. Troy won the title in 2006 before Towanda started a reign of volleyball terror and ran roughshod over the district for the next few years.

Athens never made it back to a district final in that era.

“It was a really awesome experience,” said Miller of her team’s run. “We had two great wins. We had two upsets. That’s the first time since 2005 that we even went to the final. It was an amazing feeling.”

For some perspective, Miller was one year old the last tlme the Wildcats played in a district final.

“It’s definitely a whole team effort,” said Miller of both the season and the milestone. “We’ve had a lot of bumps, sets spikes and kills. We all just come together and play together so it really is a team effort.”

“When I was a sophomore was the first we went to districts (in years),” said Field. “We made progress every step of the way and this year our goal was to get to the finals and that happened. I wouldn’t have been able to do it without my teammates. They’ve been everything to me.”

“I think the whole time I’ve been with these girls and since I’ve been coaching it’s (been about) showing these girls how good they are,” said Hanson of her whole team. “It’s a confidence thing that I’m trying to build in them. It’s not going out on the court and thinking that you’re just going to win, it’s knowing that you do the same things that the other team does. It’s hard for them to see the good things they do.

“I knew we could go farther, Hanson continued. “I knew we could go one more step. That was the goal. Had we ever had a chance to play against Berwick maybe it could have been a different story. I’m still dwelling on it. I wish I would have made some different changes. They are a great team, but we’re a great team, too.”

Hanson said that Athens’ seven seniors set a standard and that she expects the next group to respond.

“Yes, we had seven seniors and yes, they played together since they were in seventh grade. They’ve set a new level because those girls all knew, ever since I started coaching three years ago, what I expect. The juniors this year know to carry on those same things, I won’t be changing my coaching methods anyways. They set the tone and now no matter what — yes, we lost some, but there are are always new players coming up.”

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