When the mood gets a little too tense during a Franklin volleyball practice, coach Roxanne Chapman knows she can count on one of her freshmen to lighten the mood.

Outside hitter Cami Kelsay and middle blocker Kabria Chapman have provided far more than comic relief, however. Both have been pushed into key roles for a Grizzly Cubs team ranked among the best in Class 4A.

With the graduation of Addie Payne (now playing at the University of Evansville) and with senior Rachel Kinney (a Murray State commit) choosing to sit out the high school season, Franklin had some big holes to fill along the front line.

The newcomers have stepped up. Kelsay and Kabria Chapman rank right behind the Grizzly Cubs’ three veteran stars — Alyvia Sundheimer, Brooke Phillips and Isabell Mahin — in kills, and the younger Chapman is second behind Sundheimer in blocks.

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Kelsay also has taken on the additional responsibility of playing in the back row, something she hadn’t done until this year.

“I had to really step up and play my hardest,” Kelsay said, “because I had never done that. I needed to show them that I can.”

Both players are contributing despite a lack of playing experience — especially Chapman, who had been living in Great Britain for three years before coming back a year ago as an eighth-grader. Until last fall, she had never played organized volleyball.

Coming back to American sports was an adjustment for Kabria, who also will swim for the Grizzly Cubs. She participated in netball, field hockey and rounders when she was overseas.

“None of them were as intense as swimming or volleyball,” she said, “or as serious as sports here in the U.S. are.”

Both of the freshmen say they improved by leaps and bounds while playing club ball for Team Indiana in the offseason — and Kabria Chapman has the added advantage of being able to go out in her back yard and practice with her mother.

“She’s got so much more to learn,” Roxanne Chapman said. “Her and Cami both. They’re sponges; they’re so fun. You tell them, ‘Oh, this is where you want to put this ball; let’s work on this,’ and they listen and they do a good job.”

“It’s good for them to get this experience. They’re playing against big hitters and trying to get blocks and touches on balls.”

Blending the freshmen into the lineup also was a challenge for the returning veterans on the team, who weren’t used to playing with such inexperienced teammates. Roxanne Chapman says there was a learning curve there, but that the upperclassmen have learned to trust the youngsters more and more.

“Brooke and some of those guys come from playing with total elite athletes,” the coach explained, “but they’ve done really well. I think the attitude and the work ethic has really convinced the other kids that they deserve to be out here, too.”

“They made it really easy to just come in and try your best,” Kabria Chapman added. “It doesn’t matter if you’re having a bad day; they still support you.”

And in return for that support, the freshmen have helped keep the team on an even keel. When the rest of the Grizzly Cubs get too nervous or upset, one of the resident goofballs are there to provide a much-needed laugh.

“They’re fun,” Roxanne Chapman said. “They’ve both got really good attitudes and they definitely bring a lighter side to the team.”

By the numbers

Freshmen Cami Kelsay and Kabria Chapman have been making big contributions for the Franklin volleyball team. Their numbers thus far:

Player;SP;Kills;Blocks;Digs;Aces

Kelsay;41;67;2;38;1

Chapman;43;62;24;15;1

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Ryan O'Leary is sports editor for the Daily Journal. He can be reached at roleary@dailyjournal.net or 317-736-2715.