The start of Wayne Conaway’s sixth season as Port Allen volleyball head coach seems like a far cry from his first day at the helm in 2009.
“I walked into the gym that first day and had only six girls show up,” he said.
He should have no reason to worry about a lack of personnel this season.
Twenty-one players comprise the roster for the 2014 Lady Pelicans, who held their first official practice Monday.
If the number of players on the roster isn’t enough, try this: Eight of them are seniors.
“This has to be the biggest number of seniors ever in our program,” Conaway said. “I can’t recall having this many at any other time.”
The lineup also includes four sophomores and nine freshmen.
The experienced players and a fledgling feeder program both have helped the program, Conaway said.
“The freshman program has helped immensely,” he said. “It gives them a chance to work themselves into the program easily and see if it’s something they like.
It also gives the program a little more time to retain depth.
Conaway recalls earlier seasons when younger players became discouraged and threw in the towel in the middle of the run.
“When young players join the team, they still have a lot to learn … it just takes time,” he said. “After a year, a lot of them would just quit.”
Conaway said he still has a lot of road to pave before he builds the program to way he wants to see it.
He looks to some of the schools in the surrounding areas for what he wants out of his program.
“We’re not like University High, which has in place a great team for the seventh and eight grade,” Conaway said. “Many of the schools have started the freshman ball, which has worked wonders for their programs – the more they play, the more they improve.”
Conaway hopes interest in the program will continue to grow.
“We have twenty-one players, but St. Joseph has thirty-seven and Plaquemine has forty,” he said. “I guess that suggests that volleyball is a girls’ sport more than any other because it’s hard to find thirty or forty girls playing basketball or softball.”
He realizes that growth won’t come overnight.
“It took those schools a long time to get where they are,” Conaway said. “We went from a dozen players one year to fourteen the next and then sixteen, up to where we are.
“The schools like St. Joseph’s and Plaquemine also had to start at the bottom,” he said. “It takes a long time to build a program.”
As the Lady Pelicans get into the first week of practice, Conaway has pushed the players to work out the kinks that come with a summer week.
“We have plenty of time to get back into shape for the first week,” he said. “The girls had their own workouts last week, and they take a lot of initiative.”
Port Allen faces Family Christian, Scotlandville and Christian Life in the season opener Aug. 28 at the Brusly Jamboree.
COMING UP … Conaway seeks former players for the second annual benefit alumni game at 6 p.m. Aug. 22.
“Last year’s game went over really well, and we hope for as great a success this year as last year,” he said.