POWHATAN -- In the words of Morris Cephas, you can always tell when a program is well-coached.
And as soon as he and Patrick Maloney walked into Powhatan High School’s gymnasium, they immediately noticed that the student-athletes there wanted to work hard.
That they were going to grind.
“And they were going to try to do everything they could to be better,” Cephas said.
And so Maloney and Cephas – both former VCU assistant coaches – have been working with Powhatan’s current and prospective JV and varsity players to help them do just that through drills and games during this week’s unique three-day summer volleyball camp at PHS.
Cephas and Maloney, the latter of whom is now in Pittsburgh, both grew up in Richmond and have known each other for years. They first met Powhatan’s head varsity coach Cindy Bryant years ago when she came to volleyball camps back when Cephas and Maloney were still at VCU, and a friendship was formed.
They did some camps with Coach Bryant back before she became Powhatan’s head varsity volleyball coach, and they saw some of the things that she was doing through her previous teams and through the Momentum Volleyball Club.
“Coach Cindy Bryant is a really great ambassador of the sport, she really likes to see the game grow and she does a lot to try to help young women develop into great women volleyball players,” Cephas said. “Cindy is the one who reached out to us with really wanting a really great experience for her girls, for her program, and this is something that we really want to try to do to help give back to the community."
Through holding these satellite camps, Cephas noted how they’re able to get a glimpse of the system that the program wants to run, and how. from there, they’re able to personalize the camp experience for that particular program.
“We’ve had a couple meetings and phone calls about what types of defenses and offenses they are wanting to run as this season develops for them,” Cephas said of Powhatan volleyball. “Everything that we designed for them in this camp is tailored to them, and to Powhatan, and to their needs.”
During the camp, Cephas and Maloney, working with Powhatan’s coaching staff and the attending student-athletes, covered the range of skills, from passing to positioning to setting to footwork - the latter of which, Powhatan assistant volleyball coach Doug Gagnon pointed out, “generates the good position to make whatever play you’re doing, whether it’s an attacking position, whether it’s a blocking position, whether it’s a defensive play.”
“It really helps us focus on the details of volleyball instead of just passing or setting,” said Powhatan High School rising junior and camp attendee Avah Etheridge. “It helps you to focus on the behind-the-scenes (of) how to become a better player.”
Etheridge, who praised the camp as a great opportunity and a great way to prepare for next season, spoke to already seeing an improvement in her footwork amongst over skills.
“Passing has been a challenge for me this week, but I feel like I’m getting better at it, like moving my feet more and getting to the ball,” she added, “and also figuring out where to put the ball.”
With the camp, Powhatan High School rising freshman Jenna Autry got to see and learn all of the positions you could pass to for setting. She’s also definitely enjoyed scrimmaging against her teammates “because you get to play all different positions.”
Scrimmaging was also a favorite aspect for Etheridge, who spoke to not only getting a feel for a real game, but also to getting better at her own position and in different positions as well.
While learning and improving took center stage, the atmosphere of a summer camp remained. Players were all smiles during one elimination-style game where they had to keep the ball in the air while setting without a mistake, with the last remaining player being declared the winner.
“One thing that’s really cool about this group is that they love to compete, so any type of competition-style drill, game that we’re able to do, they’re going to be bought-into and try to do the best they can at it,” Cephas said. “Every drill that we do, we try to put at least some type of competitive component into it, but also try to help them understand that: ‘Hey, yes, I’m competing, but I want to be a good teammate and encourage this person the next time, because again, if we’re continuing to get ourselves better and helping push each other, then we’re going to continue to get to a higher level…”
Maloney appreciates Powhatan’s culture and what Coach Bryant has instilled.
“They have a fantastic program that’s growing,” Maloney said of Powhatan. He’s also really appreciated the players’ work ethic. “They’re coming ready to play…they want their team and the program to get better.”
In 2019 - Coach Bryant's first year at the helm - Powhatan's varsity volleyball team went 16-4 (19-6 including invitational games) and reached the Class 4, Region B semifinals. In the condensed 2020-21 season that was delayed to this past spring, the Indians this time won the regional semifinal by beating Courtland, who eliminated them last year, in the same gym. Powhatan concluded its run in the regional championship match, but will look to advance further and reach the Class 4 state tournament this fall.
“The coach here has really emphasized being disciplined, being resilient, and really a championship culture,” Cephas said. And Powhatan's players, he added, “are very receptive to any information and feedback.”
That’s how the players are already starting to improve, he noted. During one instance, he went over what a player was doing during a setting drill and how to correct it; the moment she did the drill again, he praised her improvement, saying that what she was now doing was a million times better.
“It’s been really cool to see them take the strides,” Cephas said during the second day of the camp. “They’re all soaking up things like sponges. It’s really exciting to see that.”
On the players’ side, Etheridge feels that the coaches have been “great at telling me what I need to improve on and things I’m good at.”
“It helps me to become more confident in my abilities,” Etheridge said.
“If they tell me I’m doing good on something, I feel a lot better about it,” Autry said, “or if they help me on something and they say I’m doing it right, it really helps me out.”
“What happens is: they hear the Powhatan system for years and years and years; now, what they do is: they hear the same type of things from a different perspective or a different coach, and it reinforces that,” Gagnon said. “It’s not necessarily something new, but it’s reinforcement…and also we pick up some of the drills that they bring, so we’ll be adding that to our drills in this upcoming season.”
It was a positive experience not just for the camp’s attendees, but also for the instructors themselves.
“I learn as much at these camps as I do coaching collegiately, because you just see volleyball played a little bit differently everywhere you go,” Maloney said, “and I learn as much from their coaching staff about what they see and how they handle their players and manage their gym as hopefully they do from us. I think it’s a great way to grow the game of volleyball in the area.”
This week also marked Maloney’s first time setting foot in Powhatan High School, and to him, it’s been awesome to see for himself the caliber of athletics that he knew they had.
“They’re coachable – they’re very coachable, which is exciting,” Cephas added of Powhatan’s players. “This (group) is one that’s hard-working, super coachable and is really enjoyable – really fun to work with.”