BROADLANDS — At practice, Jeremy Richards is the Heritage volleyball coach. He instructs and corrects. He explains and advises.
On game night — limited to two timeouts per set — he can't often stop the action to fix problems. He becomes the sideline voice of excitement, encouraging the Hawks.
"Honestly, I am a cheerleader," Richards said. "I'm the most competitive person you'll find. It kills me not to be out there."
When Heritage took the court Thursday for its 13th match, Richards' focus was on one area that he thought should be addressed.
Despite a 5-7 record, he didn't need players with more ability.
"This team is extremely talented," the school's first-year coach said.
What was missing was an extra dose of his eagerness and exuberance. For the first time this season, Richards decided not to substitute for junior middle hitter Cedar Richardson when she hit the back row.
"She is our emotional leader," he said. "We have to feed off that positive energy."
Richards was convinced he wouldn't be sacrificing performance by keeping her in the match.
"She moves exceptionally well and does a great job of covering the floor," he said.
The 5-foot-9 Richardson proved him right. She excelled in her new role, registering a team-high 17 digs as the Hawks rallied past Arcola 23-25, 25-22, 25-21.
"It was a pleasant surprise," Richards said.
Heritage took command in the tiebreaking set with its serve. Four of its first six points were on aces (three by Ali Stigers) and, with Arcola within a 20-17 margin late, Miranda Pruitt had back-to-back aces.
The 5-8 junior didn't play last year, but Richards said "she is a valuable asset. She always has a smile on her face."
Richards installed a new system this year, switching from a one-setter offense to a two-setter attack.
"They've picked it up quickly," he said, "and are meshing together. I debated whether to stick with the 5-1, but it's to our advantage to run the 6-2."
Taylor Wienke, one of the team's tallest players, was the full-time setter a year ago. Now, she is a hitter half the time. She led the Hawks with nine kills. She also had 25 assists, three more than Stephanie Sanderson. Sanderson also had 16 digs.
"We're not as tall as last year and have to take advantage of that height," Richards said.
Arcola's Taylor Edwards landed a match-high 11 kills, seven in the final set. Teammate Kayli Seaman had three aces.