Setting the tone: Gering senior Elli Winkler leading Bulldogs with aggressive play.

Gering’s Elli Winkler goes for the kill over Alliance’s Billi Alvarado during a match earlier in the season.

When the Gering volleyball team steps on the court, all eyes usually go to one player — Elli Winkler.

As a senior she takes on a leadership role, and helps set the tone for her teammates.

“I think I play a huge leadership role and I think I set what we are going to do,” Winkler said. “So, if I’m aggressive, everybody else is going to be aggressive. If my energy is down, I know I have to pick it up, so the team does too.”

Volleyball head coach Amanda Cochran echoed her comments.

“Elli is a really great leader. We really follow her lead. If she plays great, we play great. If she struggles, we struggle. Offensively, she carries a big weight on her shoulders on the success of our team,” Cochran said. “She leads by example. She wants the best. She’s got a heart of gold. She’s pushing girls in the gym to get better. She was in the weight room every single day this summer. We have really, really great leadership in our upperclassmen and Elli is a big reason for that.”

Winkler’s aggressiveness is evident in the fact that she has the ninth most kills in the state in all classes with 290.

Winkler has also grown a lot as a volleyball player this season, Cochran said.

“I’d would say she’s gotten a lot more aggressive. She’s really doing a nice job this year of hitting her shots.

A huge piece for her this year is ball control, which has made her a big offensive threat,” she said.

Cochran said Winkler, in addition to setting the tone for the team, is also a great mentor to the younger players.

“They love her to pieces,” she said. “We’re doing a teammate bonding drill. A lot of it comes out here how the underclassmen look up to the uppers. When Elli had her time it was a lot of, ‘Thank you for teaching,’ ‘Thank you for showing,’ ‘Thank you for being with me through these hard times.’ They really, really look up to her and respect her.”

Winkler said she and her fellow seniors try to be good role models for the underclassmen.

“I take on a huge leadership role along with Zoee (Smith) and Emily. I think that we really help out our freshman since they’re new to the varsity part. I think we really lead and help bring up our team when we’re down,” she said

In her senior season, the Bulldogs have put together a solid season, so far.

“I think we started out really strong, but we kind of hit a lull,” Winkler said. “But, I think that we’re really getting back into it. I think the Twin City really helped us out. We played a lot of really tough teams and we played really well.”

Winkler said she thinks the team hit a lull after dropping some games earlier in the season.

“I think (we were in a lull from) just (playing) a lot of games. We got tired,” Winkler said. “We went on a losing streak and I think that just brought us down. We had a lot of talks and got motivated again. We would meet in the conference room everyday before practice just motivating each other and talking about what we need to do on the court.”

The Bulldogs’ improvement was noticeable over the last week, Winkler said.

“I think we’ve improved a lot just in the past weekend (at the Twin City Invite) and I think we’re getting a lot stronger,” she said. “We played a lot of really tough teams. Each day it was full-out energy, a full-out effort. I think everybody showed that. I think every game we get a little better. Our blocking was a little off. We focused on that a lot and I felt like it got better at Twin City.”

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Jeff Van Patten is the sports editor of the Star-Herald. Jeff can be reached by calling 308-632-9050 or emailing jeff.vanpatten@starherald.com.

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