Youth will be served: Blount volleyball teams rebuilding experience
By Marcus Fitzsimmons | (email@example.com)
The prep volleyball seasons opens this week with Heritage, Maryville and King’s getting underway today and Alcoa, William Blount and Seymour starting Tuesday. Youth is the theme this season with the schools in Blount County. Breaking it down or the season ahead:
The Lady Tornadoes are young with only one senior returning and several players moving from some experience on varsity to full-time on varsity. It breaks down as four sophomores, four juniors and one senior. Alcoa’s district shrinks to five teams as Loudon went to District 5-AA and Knox Catholic moves in replacing Stone Memorial. It ups the ante on the district play with much less wiggle room and picking up district wins among the big three isn’t going to be easy.
Biggest challenge: Game Experience
“We’re going to make some mistakes early and there will probably be some inconsistency,” Alcoa coach Sam Thmas told The Daily Times. “I think once our new setter, Maggie Rowark, gets her groove we’ll settle. It’s like having a new quarterback of the team, so her developing will be kind of the catalyst for all six on the floor playing as a unit.”
Outside hitter Katie Townsend returns and the junior has been the team’s most vocal leader in preseason.
“It’s a group that has some experience but not a ton of experience, Thomas said. “I think it’s kind of a collective thing, where the girls are taking it on themselves. They’ve been in the program long enough to know what the expectations are. For them it will just be gaining experience to solidify as a team on the court.”
Biggest strength: Serving skill
“Our serving should be a strength,” Thomas said. “Even though we have little game experience the girls know the game, they’ve played enough to understand it, what adjustments to make and when.
The Lady Mountaineers graduated five very experienced seniors which makes this a very young team in terms of 4-AAA varsity experience.
Biggest Challenge: Youth
There are a lot of kills, sets and digs that graduated in May. The Lady Mountaineers have sent a lot of players on to the college ranks the last two seasons which means a lot of floor time is up for grabs this season.
“We’re really young but the girls have taken that as a challenge and have the best attitude as I’ve seen on team,” long-time Heritage coach Lisa Collins said. “They’ve embraced the challenge we have to grow up as a team.”
Biggest Strength: Competition
Middle Kelley Wolfe and outside hitter Lendi Yates are the senior leaders but the wide open feel at so many positions is making the team better as they play to take over the empty roles on the court.
“We’re very athletic but also a very young team,” Collins said. “Kelley and Lendi are already tying to fill that leadership role.”
Three juniors are expected to contribute heavily in Paige Mize, Leah Delaney and Kat Greene and look for sophomores Madison Wilkerson, Caroline Davis and Lydia McKenry.
The Lady Rebels go into the season with a trio of trios — three seniors, three juniors, the sophomores — and a slew of freshman.
Biggest challenge: The young team
“Other than the three freshman, we have two juniors who didn’t play varsity last year and we’re just young. We’ve been young for a few years in a row now it seems like and we still are,” Maryville coach Nichole Dzikus said. “We had some not come back last year. It’s a unique team in that we have a lot of girls that haven’t played with each other before. “They’re getting used to each other and that’s been our biggest challenge.”
Biggest strength: Attitude
“Their strength right now is while many of them are new and new to each other, they are working together as a team,” Dzikus said. “It’s awesome to see and fun to coach a team that has players with great attitudes and show the love for the game on the court.”
A lot of that starts with senior outside hitter Brianna Vargas, who is on track recovering from an injury to start this week.
“She’s our big returning leader,” Dzikus said. “We’re really excited to have her back in time to start the season. She hits outside, left back, She’s really the overall leader on the court.”
The Lady Govs get Lenoir City as a travel partner in 4-AAA play and have some key seniors who moved on to college to replace.
Biggest challenge: The Middle
“Our middles are the biggest challenge. We have some new ones in Mikala Holmes and Kelsey Hughes stepping up this year but we had two great ones last year with Lexi Sadler and Christine Hobbs so we’re trying to fill those holes,” WB coach Tiffany Tipton said.
Biggest strength: The three seniors — Nia Haler, Madison Fulmer, Turner Courtney.
“They provide encouragement for our team, hold our standards really high and are just good role models of exactly what high school volleyball should be,” Tipton said.
WB also gets some more young support from junior Abby Wood, who stepping in to playing middle and right side, and Emily Johnson, who is working in as the second setter on the floor.