Susan Shifflett has been a girls head volleyball coach in Northern Virginia longer than anyone. She started the Langley High School team in 1999 when the sport began its varsity status.
Her teams have won more than 400 matches and every possible championship, including two state crowns.
Shifflet may have thought she had experienced everything regarding the sport. That was until the current COVID pandemic situation, which has made coaching the Saxons in this delayed and shortened 2021 season the biggest challenge ever.
In addition to her regular duties as coach, there is now the tiring plight of overseeing and enforcing the many protocols and restrictions teams must follow.
Also, the late winter and early spring happen to be the same time as club-level volleyball, in which the majority of the top high-school players participate. In non-pandemic school years, the normal girls high-school volleyball season occurs in the fall, when club programs are at ease.
So now, the seasons are occurring simultaneously. That means Langley shares players with those club squads.
Langley (7-0) has played seven matches, all wins, and Shifflett said the Saxons are yet to have the same starting lineup, because of the conflicting club situation.
“It’s hard, because you are competitive as a coach and you want to field the best possible team,” Shifflett said. “And the senior players want to win, too, and go out with a strong season. But you can’t blame the players. This is just the way it is, even if I don’t like it. No teams have their whole squads.”
The coach worries that her players will become tired mentally and physically playing for two teams in the same season.
Looking ahead, if Langley continues winning and advances far in region and state-tournament competition, in which Shifflett believes the Saxons have that potential, the coach already knows Langley will have player conflicts.
“It might be a situation the teams that have their best players available might be the ones that win those championships,” Shifflett said.
Two of Langley’s victories have been over defending 6D North Region champion Washington-Liberty by 3-1 and 3-2 scores, including the five-set home win on March 18. Langley won in the fifth set, 15-6. The Generals won the first and fourth sets.
Shifflett said the Saxons have strong hitters and setters and solid support players.
“When we are all together, we are pretty good. We should be in the mix,” Shifflett said.
Some of those top players are setter Katie Westerheim, libero Ceren Mert and hitters Ameila Kim, Nina Kernan and Ijenna Mere. Lauren Sung, Erica Maebius and Abby Stewart are other top players.
The Saxons also have defeated York-
town, 3-1; and Herndon, McLean, South Lakes and Westfield by 3-0 scores.
Langley has one non-district match April 5 against a strong Chantilly team.
The region tournament will include all 11 teams in the league, with only the winner advancing to the Class 6 state competition.
NOTE: Langley has won five region titles and two state crowns in program history (the last in 2017), has two state runner-up finishes and eight state-tourney appearances.