Freshman Ochelli a budding star for upstart Cougars
Kempner's young volleyball team is off to a good start under first-year coach Rachel Kessler. A big reason why is a precociously talented freshman.
Ruth Ochelli only began playing volleyball two years ago, but it would be hard to tell by watching her play. Ochelli leads the 6-5 Cougars in kills with 54 (2.2 per set) with 18 digs and 11 aces in the first 11 games of the season.
"It's a fast game, so I'm just focusing on adjusting to the other team's offense," said Ochelli, who admitted she didn't expect to make varsity right away, though it was her goal. "It hasn't been easy, but I think I'm getting it. I just want to continue to learn and grow and become a better player. Not just hitting, but all around."
Ochelli said she's been getting good swings on the ball. She's still adjusting to learning different defenses and offenses.
"Ruth doesn't understand how good she really is," Kessler said. "I love that about her. She has a lot of confidence, but she's not overconfident. She knows she has a lot to learn, to build. She's got a lot of potential and room for growth."
Kessler, who arrived at Kempner in May, spent the spring and summer getting acclimated to her players. She knew she had a talented, capable core in juniors Mackenzie Vaughan and Samantha Sharer, and sophomores Brenna Casler and Sophie Ilagan. But Ochelli was a nice surprise.
Right away, Kessler was drawn to Ochelli's coachability. She initially worked on correcting Ochelli's swing, timing, and block.
"She took it all in and went with it," Kessler said. "Her coming in and taking whatever I said, and learning and adjusting, is huge, especially as a ninth grader."
Kessler asked Ochelli to stay after freshman camp during the summer to work with the varsity, seeing how she would fit in. It was seamless.
"From the moment she got in there, the girls really loved her, and they had a really good vibe with her," Kessler said. "She's looked like a part of the team since day one."
.@KempnerVb part of a loaded field here at the @kcfvballtourney. Freshman hitter Ruth Ochelli, scoring the point he… https://t.co/3TwOjqXJbC— Dennis Silva II (@Dennis Silva II) 1628784822.0
Ochelli has a raw athleticism, with impressive length and bounce. She has impressive genes, to say the least. Her father, Siben, played volleyball for the Nigerian junior national team and coached the sport as well.
When Ochelli was not at summer camps, she was training with Siben at open gyms.
"She's very strong, to be able to come in as a freshman and pick things up and play," Kessler said. "I never sat her on the bench. She was out there that first game and she's learning to adjust from that moment on. That just shows that she's very capable of more than she can imagine."
Kempner has not made the playoffs since 2011, according to MaxPreps. The postseason is priority No. 1 for Kessler, even with six sophomores and only three seniors dotting the roster.
"We want that playoff spot," Kessler said. "We're going to work hard for it, and we don't want just third or fourth. We want to try and shoot for first or second. I think we have the ability to do that."