There just seems to be that little bit of extra chatter around Booneville volleyball practices leading to the start of the season. That is a good thing according to coach Robert Dean, who believes that the more they are talking, the better they play.
And with the Lady Cats playing in a new conference this season, they would be well advised to chatter as much as possible. For a while Mena and Waldron as conference games are no more (though Booneville will still play them), the 3A West presents a big challenge as well, for the league is host to the two-time defending 3A state champion and runner-up in Mansfield and Paris respectively. West Fork and Lavaca are also usually strong and Union Christian has been coming on lately.
Booneville will once again play a challenging schedule this season. Outside of the conference, they will play Mena twice and Waldron once and participate in tournaments at Mena and Paris.
The Lady Cats began play Monday with a trip to Atkins followed by a jaunt to Lincoln on Tuesday. They play Clarksville on the road tomorrow night before their home opener against West Fork next Tuesday.
The optimism is high, and may be higher among the junior high players where a group of very talented players for their grade level take the floor.
It all starts with the dig and the serve and few are better at those tasks than junior All-State libero Hannah McClung. She had 650 digs last season and served at over 95%, and if it’s possible, she looks better in the preseason. There have been several matches in the camps where McClung dug over 90% of the volleyballs hit at her, and during last Friday’s benefit at Paris, she got up 87%. McClung is also dangerous as a back-row hitter as she got 29 kills last season.
The hitting part of the equation is led by seniors Taylor Bauer (110 kills last season) and Grace Farmer and junior Ashdon Ross (74 each) on the outside, while juniors Alyssa Adair and Kaitlynn Davis man the middle. Adair had 10 kills in limited playing time last year while Davis returns after not playing last season. These last two are very adept at blocking as well. Senior Erica McKeen could also be called on for more of a role than she has played the last two seasons. Junior Taryn Humble has come on as well. Sophomore Mikenna Kerr is a blocking specialist and classmate Megan Plymale is rapidly improving, while Paige Barr has proven to be a good all-around player.
They will depend on the setters to get them the ball. The leading all-time setter, Jaycie Rodatz (267 assists last season and 538 career), returns, though she will be asked to play more of a defensive specialist role. But not to worry; the Lady Cats have three capable setters in junior Carley Wooldridge and sophomores AshLeah Craig and Brittany Drawbaugh. These last two were part of Booneville’s first JO team last winter and did well, but still have a lot to prove. Drawbaugh, when not setting, attacks well also while Craig was the second-leading digger in junior high. Sophomore Mariah Reagan is also getting a look at setter while senior Lauren Stevens is capable as well.
The Lady Cats abound in defensive specialists to help McClung out. Ross, when on the back row, is very capable (413 digs last season), and senior Ashlie Powell, juniors Sarah Tillery and Cheyenne Canada, and sophomores Vallerie Griffiths and Sabreena Alfaro have made themselves known at camp. Griffiths can also set, and the aforementioned Reagan can also get the ball up while Maddy Jones had a very good camp season as well.
Dean has a nice problem as his team is deeper than ever before. It seems that every time he thinks he has a lineup set, somebody comes on in practice to make him think a little more. But Dean thinks, regardless of the lineup on the floor, that his team can give Mansfield, Paris and everyone else a run for their money.
Several players on the junior high team have experience from playing as eighth-graders last season, and many have also benefitted from playing JO ball last winter. Put those two together and there is much reason for optimism among coach Janice West’s charges.
Middle hitter Haley Carter, a six-footer, had an outstanding JO season and will be the focal point of the Jr. Lady Cats’ offense. She had nine kills in limited playing time last season. Carter worked on her defensive skills in JO as well as her hitting and is expected to play all around.
Joining her on the front row is Jordan Weaver (5-9) who is a good setter and hitter who served at 92% in limited playing time last year. Macy Geddes (5-10), who has grown four inches since the end of last season, is almost automatic on the serve and can set the ball very well. So can Casey Townsend, who was also a part of the 15-under JO team and gained a lot of valuable experience. Samantha Hester has had a very good off-season and is in the mix for a starting position, and Adria Coffer has come on by leaps and bounds in the last few weeks. Eighth grader Aleeah Blansett, who has grown three inches to 5-9 in the off season, could get a share of the playing time up front as well and freshman Chenoah Hawk, another six-footer, is showing improvement.
West is entrusting eighth-grader Paisley Templeman with the libero’s white shirt. She showed a lot of talent as a seventh-grader and only improved as a part of the 13-under JO squad. Two other members of that team, Maddie Herrera and Kaitlyn Fitzpatrick, are up-and-coming setters. Freshman Ashlee Slavey, despite not playing last season, is confident in her skills and is capable of playing all three positions and classmate Mariah Frost has shown improvement. Tess Killian can contribute either hitting or setting, and there are a number of other players who are working hard to get a place on the floor at either the varsity or JV level.
It looks to be an exciting time for the volleyball program as they are fully capable of achieving heights unheard of before. They played well against schools much larger than them in camp situations and held their own. If they can transfer that to the regular season, it could be a special year for the Lady Cat program.