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Tribe volleyball retools under new coach

Dave Ongie • Aug 18, 2011 at 10:32 AM

KINGSPORT— As Dobyns-Bennett’s volleyball team walked out onto the floor of the Buck Van Huss Dome on Thursday night, every member of the squad had a big set of shoes to fill. Nearly every key player from last year’s team, which finished the season as the TSSAA Class AAA state runner-up, graduated last spring. That, coupled with the retirement of longtime coach Kathi Shaffer, gave Thursday’s media night the feel of a new era in Tribe volleyball.

It may be a new era, but it’s not exactly a clean slate.

Cydnee Morrisette, Ashley Millsap and Katelyn Fleming are back, and all three know the way volleyball is expected to be played at D-B.

The same goes for new coach Wendy Baker, who spent years as Shaffer’s assistant and is now ready to carry on the winning tradition.

“I’ve been part of the program for six years, so it’s not that different for me, Baker said. “I feel like I learned from the best and she taught me well. I’ve been a part of the program for so long that I feel like I’m a big part of the success and the girls, with knowing them already, they’re buying into me.”

Although the three seniors — Millsap, Fleming and Caitlin Osborn — have not yet been stars, they are eager to provide the same leadership that was displayed to them by the likes of departed stars such as Megan Devine, Meredith Hardy and Jamie Rutledge. The expectations won’t be quite as high, but Baker is expecting her young team to be ready to mix it up by the time the postseason rolls around.

“We’ve got a hard working team,” Baker said. “Our team goal is to get better every day and I feel like we’re doing that. I’m not worried really about now — postseason is where our focus is.”

While the Tribe focuses on rebuilding, Sullivan South will grapple with the high expectations that are swirling around a program that returns a lot of size along the front line. Carlie Phillips and Heather Harvey are among the key returnees for the Lady Rebels, who are relying on an experienced group of seniors to provide a rock-solid foundation.

“I think we have some great leadership in our seniors and we have a lot of growth in our back row, so I think we’re really gelling,” South coach Wendy Ratliff said.

A big key for the Lady Rebels is the fact that many of the players participated on club teams, meaning they focused on volleyball over the offseason. As Ratliff tries to replace key players like Makensey Campbell, Taylor Fink and Kelsey Smith, that extra experience could go a long way.

“They have developed a lot. You can see a change,” Ratliff said. “It kind of depends how serious you take club, but we had a bunch of teams that went to nationals. Some of the sophomores I have, they’re playing like juniors and seniors.”

Sullivan Central also figures to contend for the Big 8 crown. Madi Phillippie, an all-conference setter last season, returns to run the offense while Savannah Benton is back at middle blocker after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. The Lady Cougars don’t have the size South has, but coach Tracy Graybeal said her team is ready to fight hard in a league with little margin for error.

“We’re not very big in stature, but for the most part we’re pretty scrappy and pretty powerful,” Graybeal said. “It’s going to be a pretty big battle. I think those first five spots are going to be a dogfight.”

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