By DAVID GRAVELY
SWT Sports Editor
Heading into the 2013 season, second year head coach Kami Reece is expecting to see improvement in her Lady Cougar volleyball teams this year.
Coming into last season, Reece knew there was some program building that needed to be done. Since the 2007 season, the best record any squad had put together was the 8-13 effort of the 2009 season. Since the 2010 season, the Lady Cougars have went a combined 15-51, with only a few district and AA wins scattered throughout that same time frame.
“We need more girls involved in volleyball at a younger age if we want to be successful at the high school level,” said Coach Reece. “Our middle school programs are doing a good job of getting some girls involved, but we need more. We need AAU teams and travel teams. We need the girls to start learning the basic skills earlier on, and to be playing year round. That’s how we’re going to get to the next level.”
With the new VHSL rules about out of season practice implemented a year ago, Reece and her Lady Cougars have been working hard. Open gyms at the high school have given them the chance to work out more than normal. The middle schools have also been getting in more work, and while coaches are seeing what appears to be a younger group at the middle school level, they are also seeing good numbers and a solid work ethic.
“There are a few dead periods, all at the start of the new seasons, but other than that you can practice or play in tournaments year round,” said Reece. “It’s going to affect all of the players, in that they are going to have to play competitively in the off-season to be ready to compete in the high school season.”
The Cougars will need to step their game up quickly if they want to find success, because the new 6A system and conference alignment setup will have them playing some of the more solid teams in the state. Even though the new setup takes away the chance of winning a district championship, Reece knows those teams will still be strong.
“Hidden Valley, Cave Spring, and Salem are all returning most of their strong teams from last season,” said Reece. “It’s going to be tough to make the playoffs, and if you do then you can expect to play teams that are just as strong. I like the fact that it will give us more variety in the teams we play, but it does have the potential to cause travel issues.”
For now, however, Reece is going to focus on getting her team ready for the games directly in front of them. With a solid group of players returning from last season and five seniors on the roster, she has high hopes of making up ground.
The varsity team consists of Blair Hurst, Jesse Lynn, Makayla Morris, Carlie Perry, Kristina Simpkins, Ali Williams, and the five Lady Cougar seniors.
“Becca Cox is a senior new to the varsity program,” said Reece. “She looks to be a great addition to our lineup, especially on the front row. Erin Harmic has proved to be a great middle hitter last season. She is moving to the outside some to continue developing that skill. Maegen Memitt has tremendous hitting power and versatility at all hitting positions. Lauren Shumate has tenacious effort all the way around on the court. She is willing and able to fill any of the team roles needed. Finally, Gracie White will be moving from a setter/hitter role to concentrate on using her hitting power and defensive ability.”
While she will depend on those seniors to provide leadership to the younger players in the system, she feels good about the team as a whole.
“We have great team chemistry this year between the seniors and underclassmen,” said Reece. “The seniors are very positive leaders and role models, and are good at assisting the younger players. The younger players are eager to learn and receive direction well. We’re excited to get to our games.”
The junior varsity squad is also shaping up as a solid group. The team has 13 players. Amanda Alley, Erin Arnold, Jenna Carroll, Allison Caudill, Amanda Dean, Olivia Lawson, Kelsey Montgomery, Rose Oglesby, Callie Ratcliffe, Courtney Stone, Chamrion Sutherland, Jordan White, and Abi Williams will all be working to earn wins and work towards the varsity team.
The team has four managers, Kayla Bailey, Alexis Arredondo, Brooke Branscome, and Hannah Lester.
The teams first regular season match will be on Aug. 26 on the road against Galax. They will follow that with a match in Roanoke against William Fleming on Aug. 29. The Lady Cougars will host their first home match on Sept. 4 against Radford. Junior varsity action at all games gets underway at 5:30, with the varsity matches starting at 7 p.m.