Head coach Jayme Savage aims to improve culture for FSHS volleyball

Free State volleyball players compete in a summer camp at FSHS on June 7, 2019.

Just because Free State’s volleyball team has a familiar face at the helm, doesn’t mean there won’t be any changes to the program.

Jayme Savage was named the FSHS volleyball head coach this past spring after serving as an assistant with the program for nine years. It was clear during the team’s summer camp in early June that Savage had every intention of switching things up for the Firebirds.

“I’m focusing on developing that one-team mentality,” Savage said. “We are one program, we are not a bunch of divisions. We all take care of each other, regardless of what team you are going to be on. I want them to become that well-around athlete who takes care of each other.”

Because Savage has been assistant for nearly a decade, and was a player for FSHS as well, she is very familiar with the successful players that have come through Free State.

Still, the Firebirds have not reached their full potential as of late. They entered last fall as the No. 4 team in Class 6A, but went 23-15 before eventually being eliminated by Manhattan High. FSHS also lost to MHS in the regional championship in 2017.

But embracing a collective responsibility and mindset might be the very thing that propels Free State back to the state tournament for the first time since 2016.

“The program is definitely changing so much compared to the past few years,” senior Emily Arensberg said. “We have been team-centered. That is our main focus, just playing for our teammates instead of ourselves.”

Arensberg, a setter, is one member of a 12-person senior class that includes Kaitlyn Hamilton (Indiana State commit), Mya Gleason and Haley Hippe. That veteran presence has eased Savage’s transition to more responsibility, though she’s known the senior class for quite some time.

“We have a lot of seniors, it hasn’t really been like that before,” Arensberg said. “We have to step up. We have to be really good role models for the underclassmen.”

Savage even made the seniors come up with drills and activities on the final day of the summer camp. They played games like kickball and dodgeball, which allowed players to bond throughout the program.

“It shows the underclassmen that you don’t need to just play volleyball to have fun,” Hippe said. “You just need to be together as a team and have fun together. Not just on the court, but off the court too.”

For Hippe, who has been with the team throughout her high school career, it illustrated how the program is already improving with Savage at the helm.

“It really is good to see change coming,” Hippe said. “We are all good as a program, and that is a huge thing that she is trying to bring back, our culture as Free State volleyball.”

Monumental feat for FSHS freshmen

Four soon-to-be freshman players for FSHS volleyball had a weekend to remember in late June.

Aubrey Duncan, Sawyer Thomsen, Rylee Unruh and Makayla Schmalenberger all competed on club volleyball teams that qualified for the Gold division in the Open 14 category, which is the top category in USA Volleyball for that age group.

Thomsen, Unruh and Schmalenberger all played for Dynasty 14 Black, a member of Kansas City’s premier volleyball club, that took fifth place at the USAV Girls Junior National Championships in Indiana Convention Center in Indianapolis, Indiana. Duncan’s team, Mavs KC 14-1, finished in a tie for fifth place.

In total, the future Firebirds represented two of the eight teams that qualified for the Gold division.


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