Last season, Tennessee High advanced to the state tournament and Volunteer made a run to the sectionals. This season could be more competitive with the expected bounce-back of D-B and Science Hill.
Chloe Harless, Staley Humphries, Carly Shell and Zoie Larkins shore up the back row for the Lady Indians, and coach Megan Devine said not much gets by them when all four are on the court.
Humphries is a rotational player, just as effective on the front row, where she and Caroline Cable are the outside hitters. Rylee Waye is a returning setter, while Abby Fannon is a senior who just joined the team this season.
Devine wants her setters to speed up the offense, and the combination of Hannah Watson and Courtney Whitson gives the Lady Indians a force in the middle.
“I don’t think anyone could define ‘brick house’ any better than them,” Devine said. “They’re kind of like the dynamic duo.”
Devine says her team’s biggest strength is the back row. But hopes are high and the coach believes consistent play is the key to a successful season for the Lady Indians.
With the season starting this week, coach Laura Cook said the Lady Hilltoppers are looking for leadership across the board.
Junior Kenzie Clark is the libero. Other defensive specialists are senior Meghan Carroll and sophomore Jesse Franks.
In a 6-2 set, sophomore Alyssa Neal and Chloe Smith are setters.
Middle blockers Ella Gay and Mckenna Crosby have been challenged to be scorers. Right-side hitter Riley Layton has both the jumping ability and hang time. Outside hitters also include Jesse Franks, Meghan Carroll and Claire Thomas.
Overall, Cook praised her team for getting in the weight room and working to become stronger in preparation for a league that she sees as more competitive than ever.
“I think every night will be a dogfight with a lot of four- and five-game matches,” she said. “If I base it on team camp, everybody is going to play hard.”
Five seniors and six juniors make up the roster just one year after the Lady Vikings made the state tournament. Kloey Tester leads the way, joined by fellow outside hitters Laken Robinette and Maggie Hicks. Tester and Robinette led the team in kills at the state tournament.
New middle hitters are Sahra Lamber and Kenzie Nickels. Their roles will be key because coach Mary Johnson is focused on her team upping its middle play this season.
Macy Hurley is the libero and Evie Cozart a defensive specialist.
“I’m extremely confident in our back row,” Johnson said, “to the point where I say we’re as strong as last year.”
Playing in a 6-2 set, Riley McCracken and Aubrey McCray are the setters.
The Lady Falcons must replace last season’s conference player of the year, Alyssa Hatley, who led Volunteer to its first sectional appearance in 17 years before signing with East Tennessee State.
However, 6-foot-2 Emily Hatley is looking to continue the family tradition as a middle blocker alongside Emma Bice, who led the team in blocks last season.
“Emily is really putting the ball down and I’m excited about what she’s able to do,” coach Josh Wenger said. “We’re filling a void, but we’re going to be more balanced and that will be healthy for us.”
Outside hitters include Gracie Smith and Jersey Wines.
Wenger describes Sydney Allen as a good spot server, and Wenger is listed as a setter along with Sydney Allen.
Volunteer also has the luxury of senior Aubrey Cobb, a three-year starter, at libero.
Coach Marquis Clark jokes that he will put his Lady Pioneers up against any team on the softball field.
With crossover athletes like softball player Kara Weems as an outside hitter and basketball player Emma Gouge as middle blocker, Crockett has plenty of athleticism.
“If I can get athletes in there who are fast and bouncing, they can jump around in there, get touches and keep things balanced,” Clark said.
Breanna O’Shields and Gabby Rambo are a couple of other front-row standouts, and the setters include Joanna Smith and Jessica Foister.
Maddie Pleasant is at libero and Morgan Barkley is expected to be a force on the back row.
It is a rebuilding year for the Lady Trailblazers, who lost nine seniors — including their entire defense.
As of last week’s media day, coach Chelsea Spivey had yet to name a libero. Laken Jones, Riley Brinn, Claire Nave and Abbi Herbert need to take up the slack defensively.
The offensive end looks better. Boone’s four returning players are outside hitter Jaycie Jenkins, middle hitters Greyson Stevens and Dannah Persinger, and setter McKenna Dietz. Junior Mackenzie Sweigert is also at outside hitter.