By Mike McClure

Laurel Athletic Director Kevin Walmsley said one of his goals coming into the position was to bring more sports to Laurel, especially for girls. As a result, Laurel High will field varsity boys’ and girls’ cross country and girls’ volleyball teams this fall.

“We definitely have the numbers for cross country and volleyball,” said Walmsley. “The kids are excited. They’ve asked for it for the last couple years.”

This season will mark the first time in over 20 years that the Bulldogs have had a varsity cross country program. The volleyball program will only have a varsity program this season, with 12 or 13 players. Because Laurel is a small school, Walmsley said he wanted to be careful about taking players away from the field hockey program.

Laurel varsity softball coach Jodi Green will lead the volleyball team in its inaugural season.

“I am looking forward to it, it’s a little different,” said Green. “A lot of my softball girls wanted to play.”

Eight years ago Green tried to get the school to start a volleyball team, but the district was unable to do it because of budget issues.

“It was always in the back of my mind. I kind of gave up on it,” she said. “It will give them (athletes that don’t play field hockey) a chance to play a sport in the fall.”

Laurel was the only school in the Henlopen Conference that did not have a varsity girls’ volleyball team.

“We will all learn this year, maybe next year. In two or three years I think we’ll be competitive in the South,” said Walmsley.

Green does not expect as much pressure or as many expectations (as established programs like softball) for the first year program.

“It’s going to take time like any first year program,” she said. “The competitive side of them will want to win but we have to be realistic. We don’t have a travel volleyball team here.”

The volleyball team will be playing a non-conference schedule for the first couple years.

Laurel track and field head coach David King will lead the cross country teams. Laurel started a middle school cross country program a couple years ago before the pandemic shut down all middle school sports. Walmsley said the district had been talking about starting a varsity program for years.

“I don’t know why it went away,” Walmsley said of the previous varsity program.

King said he fell in love with track and field after his first year of coaching the varsity track team last spring. 

“The best thing is it’s going to prepare the kids for track and give non-contact kids something to do,” said King. “Cross country gives you a chance to play a varsity sport and find your own way.”

King said that while track and field has many events, coaching cross country allows him to give all his attention to the distance runners.

“This is just focussing on the long distance runners. It gives you a chance to fine-tune them,” he said.

King has been contacted by a number of his track and field athletes and their parents about the cross country team. A number of veteran coaches have offered him support including assistant coach Duel Ballard, a former head cross country coach at Delmar.

According to Walmsley, the cross country course was laid out 10 years ago, but it is now grown out. As a result, the middle school and varsity teams will hold meets at Trap Pond.

“They (Trap Pond) were very open arms about Laurel coming out and using Trap Pond for their home course,” said King, who said the team will practice at the school in addition to going to Trap Pond once or twice a week to practice. “You still want that home advantage and the only way to do that is to go out there.”

“It’s an all around good course and it should run pretty fast,” he added. “We’re all very excited and I think the community is as well.”

“It’s (adding cross country and volleyball) just another opportunity for kids to participate in sports in high school,” said Walmsley. “We’re excited to see what happens this year and get the numbers out.”