The transition was not supposed to be seamless.
The Cox boys volleyball team entered the season as defending 6A state champions, but an offseason makeover left the Falcons clouded with more questions than answers.
For starters, their top three senior catalysts behind last year’s title run graduated to Division 1 programs. Cox returned only two starters, Brad Creamer and Jake Gibbs. Coach Jason Zuidema was left juggling a preseason lineup that hadn’t seen much prime-time experience.
For the Falcons, however, none of that mattered.
“Beginning of the season people were not giving us the respect we deserved,” Creamer sad. “Underplaying us a little bit.”
Zuidema understood his team’s fluxed situation but never underestimated the group’s potential.
For the Falcons, it wasn’t a rebuilding year, like outsiders had pegged it. Instead, it was a chance to prove just how good they are.
“It was about coming in with that mindset where no one expects us to be there, but we do,” Zuidema said. “We knew we were going to have our work cut out for us, but we never backed down from that.”
Thursday’s Coastal Conference tournament final at Tallwood High was the perfect example.
Cox entered as the No. 3 seed, but some could have argued they were the underdogs against a No. 4 Landstown team fresh off two upset victories against No. 1 Ocean Lakes and No. 2 Bayside. Eagles standout hitter David Rochester was nearly unstoppable in those two wins.
For Cox, it didn’t matter.
The Falcons swept the Eagles 3-0 (25-19, 25-13, 25-23) en route to another 6A state tournament berth.
“We have a mentality of ‘We prepare for us,’ ” Creamer said. “If we do us right, we don’t really care who’s on the other side of the net. We know that we’re going to win. We executed by doing ‘us’ the best, and we saw the results.”
The Falcons limited the high-flying Rochester to just 10 kills and Eagles setter Christian Brown to 12 assists.
Creamer once again played his typical do-it-all game, finishing with nine kills, 17 assists, eight digs and four blocks.
The senior’s ability to contribute in all facets of the game was no more evident than in the third set, when Creamer, the team’s best hitter, didn’t record a single kill but dished a team-high eight assists and added a block.
“Brad exemplifies what it means to play Cox volleyball,” Zuidema said after the win. “He’s selfless and puts the team first, always. His goal is not to pick up the 30 kills but to pick up the team win.”
Creamer added: “What matters to me is a ‘W’ next to Cox. As long as we’re winning, it doesn’t matter to me.”
Zuidema called the win a complete team effort that exemplifies what the Falcons have been working on all season.
Senior Jake Gibbs led the hitters with 13 kills, while setter Devin Flaherty registered 17 assists in addition to Creamer’s 17 dimes. Jordan Bernhardt posted eight kills.
“All year we were tyring to put the pieces together and we finally figured out who to put where,” Zuidema said. “Now we know what we’re doing and we’re ready to go. Full-steam ahead from this point ahead.”
“That’s a testament to the entire team,” he said.