WINDHAM - You'll never catch Windham volleyball coach Michael Chaffee telling a player to not participate in other sports.
In his thinking, it wouldn't make sense to deprive an athlete of all that can be gained from experiencing as much of the sporting world as possible. The experience gained from a trip to a regional basketball tournament one year might pay a dividend when the volleyball team advances to the regional level the next year.
Chaffee is banking on that philosophy as the Bombers prepare for a match against the Tuscarawas Central Catholic Saints in a Division IV regional semifinal tonight at 6 p.m. at Solon High School.
"The more sports you play, the more comfortable you will be in bigger games," Chaffee said. "We have kids that excel in a lot of sports. A lot of these kids played in a regional final in basketball, which is a plus."
The Bombers (23-2) will need more than experience to advance to the fourth regional final in school history. The Saints present a taller lineup, but the Bombers counter with an athletic group and more depth for which they're given credit.
"What goes under the radar for us is we have a strong bench," Chaffee said. "Most of the kids on the bench would play for most schools. Every kid wants to play all the time. Our bench kids have played big parts for us. In the district final we had three kids go in, and all of them produced great results for us.
"That gives the starters confidence that if they need to come out briefly, they can do that."
That depth allows Chaffee to have confidence that points will be produced no matter which rotation is up.
"Dari (Heller) is our most dynamic hitter and the one teams are going to notice the most, but what makes us strong is that everybody else can hit the ball, too," Chaffee said. "A lot of times you have rotations that are weaker. We don't have any rotation that I'm uncomfortable isn't going to score. The big advantage for us is we're very athletic and almost to a person all the kids play three sports."
As always, Chaffee will look to juniors Jessica Isler and Heller to lead the attack, but the aforementioned depth becomes more important the further teams advance along the tournament trail.
"This year our team is solid," senior co-captain Britney Collins said. "The starting six is good, but we go into our bench players, too. We know we will be playing bigger schools, but we have more depth than we did."
Chaffee was able to scout the Saints in their district final win over Sarahsville Shenandoah, but he's not sure if that gave him an accurate read.
"I don't think the team they played in the district final was that strong," Chaffee said. "The team they played didn't generate much offense. They (the Saints) played a tough schedule. Most of the teams are bigger schools and better programs.
"Volleyball is controlled by what you do, unlike basketball, where you can identify the other team's best player and play a box-and-one on her."
Chaffee probably won't have to come up with words of wisdom to inspire the Bombers tonight. All he'll have to do is roll a ball in front of them and tell them to have fun.
"My message to them is, one, to dwell on the celebration of being here and, two, have the mindset that the next point is going to be vital because when you play good teams the secret is to keep them from running four, five or six points in a row," Chaffee said. "During the season our goal is to serve at least three times and when the other team serves to limit them to two serves. If we could adhere to that philosophy in the regional, I like our chances."
Collins stressed the importance of maintaining a calm mind.
"I feel like if we get worried about losing, our season would be over," Collins said. "There are 16 teams left (in the state) and we're one of them. Either way we've ended up pretty well."