Volleyball teams have fared well in Blount County.
Of the 10 area programs, more than half fielded winning seasons last year, and the ones that didn’t have shown signs of growth since they last took the court. Many are just a step or two away from competing among the best in their respective divisions.
Some teams have brought in new coaches with distinct visions for leading their rosters to glory; others have reloaded in search of even deeper postseason runs.
Here is a team-by-team breakdown of local volleyball programs as they kick off their new seasons:
Heritage Lady Mountaineers
Coach: Jason Keeble
2021 Record: 22-11 (lost to Hardin Valley in the District 4-AAA tournament)
Key Players: Aubrey Pierce (Sr.), Melanie Morris (Sr.), Haley Harnichar (Sr.)
The set: Heritage’s top quality this season may be its depth; the Lady Mountaineers boast 18 varsity players, including four seniors and 13 juniors, all of whom have shown proficiency on the court. Keeble is still figuring out how he wants the rotation to look, and he knows it could change rapidly as needed. It will all hinge on how each player performs when it’s their turn, both in practice and in live action, as the Lady Mountaineers strive for a deeper postseason run this time around. Harnichar may have the greatest impact; Keeble cited her as Heritage’s “biggest threat offensively as of now.”
Keeble says: “We’ve just got so much depth where kids can kind of play multiple positions. What we battle is that maybe we don’t have that one alpha player who is going to take charge of a game and kind of go. Maybe some of these other teams do (have that player) that are tops in their division, but after that top player, we’re pretty solid. I’m looking forward to seeing how they grow, how they develop, how they compete.”
Maryville Lady Rebels
Coach: Chris Hames
2021 Record: 32-10 (District 4-AAA champions, Region 2-AAA champions, lost to Collierville and Nolensville in the Class AAA state tournament)
Key Players: Amanda Mack (Jr.), Liv Gravatt (Sr.), Kiernan Stamey (Jr.)
The set: Maryville’s quest is obvious: return to state after losing both of its matches in last year’s tournament. The Lady Rebels have to replace multiple seniors from a 2021 team that won both district and region titles, but their talented returners, including reigning Daily Times Player of the Year Amanda Mack and Buffalo commit Liv Gravatt, will lead the way. There may be some growing pains when younger players rotate in, but there’s reason to be confident in a roster that benefitted from club play during the offseason.
Hames says: “We had a tough draw (in state) last year. You’ve got to beat a good team, and we just couldn’t get over one last year. I think we have a shot of getting back there. At that point, I think it’s whoever’s hot at that time and ready to play. I think we have a shot, and once you get there, you’ve got to win a couple. We lost two close (matches) and that’s just part of it.”
William Blount Lady Governors
Coach: Kendra Swafford
2021 Record: 7-21 (lost to Hardin Valley in the District 4-AAA tournament)
Key Players: Emilee Anthony (Sr.), Niah Garland (Jr.), Tessa Stout (So.)
The set: After losing 13 seniors over the past two years, William Blount is in for another rebuilding year. There are pros and cons to that; while the Lady Governors will miss the production of former standouts like Gracie Love and Makayla Johnson, Swafford has even more of a chance to mold her team into what she wants it to be. With multiple upperclassmen expected to play key roles, the hope is William Blount can cut out the inconsistencies it showed last season, when it mixed impressive moments with disappointing ones to ultimately bow out of the postseason in just three matches.
Swafford says: “Because we are such a young team, we have the talent, I think our biggest thing this year is going to be lack of experience. Just not having as many touches on the ball at the varsity level that some of these other schools might have had. But I think overall, right now, what I’m asking out of them is being presented on the court. We’ve gotten a lot of those kinks out during the summer.”
Alcoa Lady Tornadoes
Coach: Sam Thomas
2021 Record: 21-15 (District 5-AA champions, Region 3-AA runner-up, lost to Signal Mountain in the Class AA sectionals)
Key Players: Sydney Worde (Sr.), Lily Long (Sr.), Jaylyn Halliburton (Sr.)
The set: Nearly everything, from the rotation to the overall mindset, is different for Alcoa this season compared to last year, when the Lady Tornadoes were eliminated one game away from the state tournament. They do return several key players and boast a seven-member senior class, but experience among those seniors varies and two are out for the season with ACL injuries. With all of the change surrounding the Lady Tornadoes, they will need to quickly find a rhythm together and make use of veteran savvy if they hope to improve on what the program accomplished last season.
Thomas says: “This group, there are a couple who are really looking to, ‘Can we see beyond what we did last year?’ But for most of them, I feel like this is just an opportunity to enjoy the season, really just enjoy the sport. They love it. It’s something that they just want to play and be a part of and participate in, competitively but also just to enjoy. It’s just a different mindset.”
Seymour Lady Eagles
Coach: Kasey Norman
2021 Record: 18-10 (District 4-AA champions, lost to Gibbs in the Region 2-AA tournament)
Key Players: Bailey McCoy (Sr.), Jessie McKilligan (Sr.), Jaden Cummings (Sr.)
The set: The Lady Eagles are no strangers to success; in Norman’s four seasons leading the program, they’ve won two district titles, including last season. Paced by upperclassmen and with the results to back the system, she believes Seymour can go even further this season, which would only increase the program’s prowess in the area. Bailey McCoy and Jaden Cummings both also play basketball for Seymour, and they’ve proven their worth as threats on the volleyball court, too.
Norman says: “I believe we are farther along, skill-wise, this season than we have been in the past. We have several juniors that now have a year of varsity experience under their belt, where last season started as sophomores with no varsity experience and stepped up to be a vital part in our success. We have several players that are solid all around players that I believe will be essential to keep on the floor.”
Greenback Lady Cherokees
Coach: Beth Disney
2021 Record: 1-15 (eliminated by Harriman in the District 3-A tournament)
Key Players: Heidi Lundquist (Fr.), Mady Albright (Jr.), Liana Holloway (Jr.)
The set: This will only be the second year Greenback has fielded a volleyball program. While last year’s focus was on teaching the game to an inexperienced roster, Disney hopes her team can see at least some fruits of its labor this season. The Lady Cherokees will rely on freshman Heidi Lundquist, who started as an eighth grader, as well as Albright, who transferred into the program from Alcoa, as they try to translate what they’ve learned onto the court and tally more wins this season.
Disney says: “We’re still learning the game, but I think (we) will definitely be more competitive this year and hopefully win some more matches for sure. We were able to focus on more than just the basics for this season because we had to spend a lot of time last year on just learning the basics. Just hopefully win some more matches this year, be more competitive, look like a real volleyball team.”
The King’s Academy Lady Lions
Coach: Danielle Quesinberry
2021 Record: 0-13
Key Players: Claire Brooks (Fr.), Kimberly Haywood (So.)
The set: After playing for the Lady Lions during high school and a stint as an assistant coach, Quesinberry takes the reins of the program this year. Along with an improvement in the win-loss record, she’s focused on cohesion among her players and progress in discipline and skill areas. She’s particularly excited about the future of freshman setter Claire Brooks, who she called “all-around athletic” and “very coachable.” Sophomore middle blocker Kimberly Haywood, who has impressed Quesinberry defensively, will play a pivotal role for TKA as well.
Quesinberry says: “I’m thrilled. It’s been great returning to a familiar spot. I graduated in 2016 and played four years here in high school for Kelly Peterson, which was great. So being able to come back and be a part of this program as we’re working to grow has been really fun and exciting.”
Apostolic Christian Academy Lady Flames
Coach: Maren Perdue
2021 Record: 23-7
Key Players: Maysa Murphy (Sr.), Kayla Gomez (Sr.), Presley Scarborough (Jr.)
The set: Perdue steps in as the Lady Flames’ coach with experience in both playing and teaching the sport. In the team’s first year competing in the TSSAA’s private school sector, senior Maysa Murphy, who plays in multiple spots for Apostolic Christian, will be counted on heavily; Perdue called her an “incredible defensive player.” After an offseason in which Lady Flames players worked on their passing skills and participated in a spring competition, Perdue sees “huge potential” in her new team as it looks to build on an already solid foundation.
Perdue says: “We’ll probably have some higher levels of competition than they’ve been used to in the past, and that’s good. I’m up for the challenge and I think the girls are pretty excited about that as well. Everybody is telling me they love basketball, basketball’s the big thing with the boys, and it’s a thing with the girls, but they’re like, ‘We’re a volleyball school.’ So I’m like, ‘Alright, let’s see.’”
TENN. ASSOCIATION OF PRIVATE SCHOOL ATHLETICS
Maryville Christian Lady Eagles
Coach: Kayla Warren
2021 Record: 15-10
Key Players: Juliette Wilkerson (Sr.), Ari Usher (Sr.), Lily Headrick (Sr.)
The set: If there’s anything that separates Maryville Christian from other volleyball teams, it’s the Lady Eagles’ depth. The roster boasts 12 players, but Warren is excited about what the group can bring as a whole. The senior trio of Wilkerson at setter, Usher as a key hitter and Headrick at libero give her even more reason to be confident. The Lady Eagles hope to make use of their talents, as well as that roster depth, down the stretch of this season.
Warren says: “I think we’re going to be pretty good. My other starters are a couple of sophomores, I’ve got a junior, I’ve got another senior. We’ve got a really good full 12 players. It’s not just the six that we need. We’ve got really good chemistry going on. It looks pretty promising.”
Clayton-Bradley Academy Lady Blazers
Coach: Cheyenne Burnett
2021 Record: 7-15
Key Players: Leah Hales (Sr.), Mia Adkins (Fr.), Brylee Condee (Fr.)
The set: Burnett takes over Clayton-Bradley’s high school program after coaching the middle school team the past few years. She’s confident in her roster, even predicting this year’s team could shatter the program’s record for wins in a single season. A key piece in that effort will be Leah Hales, who transferred in last year and has brought both a strong serve and a positive attitude to the Lady Blazers. Her leadership could be the catalyst for a team that is already working well together and is excited to take the floor this season.
Burnett says: “I am super excited to take over the high school program, especially (because) a lot of the kids who are on the team this year, I’ve already coached as they’ve made their way through middle school. So I know their personalities and I know the potential that they have. To be able to continue to work with them is something I’m really excited about.”