By: Nate Schneider
Ithaca volleyball finds way to move on after Kayla Belles injury
Ithaca volleyball was dealt a crushing blow before the season ever started.
Over the summer while playing basketball at Adrian College, 6-foot-4 senior Kayla Belles suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in her knee which ended her season before it ever started.
Belles, who committed in August to play basketball at Michigan State University, was not only primed to have a phenomenal senior year in hoops but prior to that she was expected to be a major contributor to the Yellowjackets’ volleyball team.
As a junior, she became the second player in school history to achieve All-State honors in volleyball as she was honorable mention in Class B. Belles completed the season with an astounding 629 kills, 167 blocks, 49 aces and 139 digs as Ithaca finished the campaign 24-25-2.
Undoubtedly the expectations for a bigger season from not only Belles but the Yellowjackets as a team were higher this season, but those were tempered due to the unfortunate injury.
“It was obviously a big blow,” Ithaca coach Karla MacDonald said. “She was a huge player for us. She was being recruited Division I for not only basketball, but also volleyball. When you lose a player like that, what we were trying to do is tell the girls that they’re not Kayla Belles but we have to fill the spot. They had to do what they’re capable of doing.”
It has been a transitional time for sure and the adjustments on the fly have produced results that were probably expected due to the absence of such a dynamic and athletic threat on the court as Belles presented. Ithaca lost at home to Saginaw Valley Lutheran on September 21 to drop its record to 6-15-2, not the season that was envisioned before Belles was lost for the season.
Ithaca has focused more on defense without its shot-blocking aficionado in the middle, with that approach leading to some victories and keeping other matches relatively close.
Belles remains an integral part of the roster, serving as captain and attending each practice and match.
Adapting has taken time, but MacDonald does not allow the Yellowjackets to harp on what could have been or think about Belles not being out there with them.
“To be honest, we don’t even discuss it,” MacDonald said. “We don’t say anything like, ‘Well, if Kayla was out there…’ or whatever. We stay in the moment and play with what we have.”
Ithaca is led on the court by sophomore setter MacKelle Thompson, who was a second team All-Tri-Valley Conference West performer a year ago after accumulating 605 assists along with 126 aces and 186 digs while serving 90 percent.
Thompson, the daughter of Yellowjackets boys basketball coach Jim Thompson, has taken her game to the next level in 2017.
“The way I look at it is that it doesn’t matter what class year you are,” MacDonald explained. “It’s about how much varsity experience you have. If you’re a sophomore and it’s your second year on varsity, you have just as much varsity experience as some seniors.”
Kayla’s younger sister, Emma, is in her second year on varsity and as of the middle of September she was averaging 2.3 kills and 0.72 blocks set.
The breakdown of the entire Ithaca roster is three seniors, eight juniors and two sophomores which shows there is plenty to build with as the program makes strides forward.
“We’re focusing on improving those skills and having fun as we get better,” MacDonald added.
The Yellowjackets will travel to Breckenridge for Class C districts next month, dropping down after spending last year in Class B.