With things looking a little different at the top of the conference, the Scioto Valley Conference volleyball race is as open in 2012 as it has been in recent memory.
Still, the idea that success breeds success is alive, especially with Adena, the perennial powerhouse at the top of the league. With that in mind, the Warriors are still at — or near, at least — the top of the conversation when it comes to volleyball this fall.
Here is a preview of some of the area’s teams. More will be featured in Monday’s paper:
Coach Laura Smith didn’t go into the specifics.
“Let’s just say that our numbers are down,” Smith said of her team, which made it to the state tournament’s Elite Eight last year but lost several players from that powerhouse team.
“But that’s just in the varsity,” she said. “We have 15 kids in junior high and 12 more in the seventh grade, so those numbers are great. And (for the varsity team), the kids who are here are all working hard. We’ve got a little group, but practices are fun and we’re getting a lot done.”
Adena, with its storied program and long conference winning streak, is doing its best to not let the other things bother what goes on on the field.
“My job is to coach the volleyball team,” Smith said. “I don’t think we feel any pressure at all. Last year was probably the most pressure I’ve ever felt in all these years, making sure we didn’t stub our toe and come up short of what we can do. This year, I think there’s a lot less pressure, even if we don’t have the same kind of group that we’ve had in the past.”
The Warriors bring plenty of talent with them into the season, starting with senior hitter Jenny Grigsby. She will be joined this year by fellow senior Alyssa Kennedy, along with sophomore Kirsten Dawson, junior Chloe Shea and sophomore Karli Bower. Also on the varsity roster are junior Bridgette Scaggs and sophomores Hannah Bakenhaster and Natalee Jones.
“The building blocks for us start with the seniors, and they’re learning how to be leaders,” Smith said. “They’re getting more vocal, and that’s been a real good thing for us. This team is starting to come together. I’m not going to say they’ve always been buddies or anything like that, but that’s part of what we’re going through right now. We’re getting to know each other, and the more they get to know each other, the harder they’re going to want to play for each other.”
There were a few big holes to fill for the Huntsmen after graduations of all-SVC middle hitter Zoey Zickafoose and Paige Danner. Coach Tina Magill is confident the roster is deep enough to replace those two, especially with seasoned returners Lane Beasley, Alayna Lytle, Haylie Ingram and Jackie Kellough.
For what that’s worth inside the program, coach Tina Magill says the focus isn’t so much about trying to fill the voids on offense — that will play itself out as the season moves along. The idea for Magill in 2012 is working to improve the team’s style of play on defense.
“We’ve definitely changed to a more defensive minded practice,” said Magill. “Last year we were great hitters but we didn’t cover enough area on the dinks and dunks that came from the other side. I still think our hitting is our strength, but the key to us getting better and winning is going to be our defense.”
Huntington strengthened its offseason work and scrimmage schedule this season to get the team ready to take the step they feel their ready to make in the Scioto Valley Conference. With a core group of talent and an off-season worth of preparation to see how that work is going to pay out, Magill said she ready to get into the season and see how her team — the league as well — is going to play out.
“Our confidence level is stronger and we’re extremely positive,” she said. “Our league is so good and it seems like everyone who lost somebody — including ourselves — just replaced them with someone just as good. We’re going to have to be on our game every single night.”
Judging by the kind of talent Westfall’s program is bringing to the table in 2012, they’re coming in with a real chance to make splashes in a strong conference usually dominated by two or three teams.
Some call that an underdog, but coach Lisa Lightle isn’t going to buy that moniker.
“Our potential is phenomenal,” coach Lisa Lightle said. “If these girls can reach that, they’ll be unstoppable.”
Westfall returns four seniors from last year’s squad, including Olivia Cobb, Lindsey Lemaster, Abbie Nicholson and Sara Link. First year senior Megan Rouss becomes the team’s fifth senior. The team did lose Alex Phillips, Olivia Beavers and Carlie Burke to graduation, but a talented class of sophomores and freshman look to fill that vacancy rather quickly.
Denise Arledge look to fill in for Phillips at setter, a position Magill called the biggest spot the team needed to fill. Hannah Wallace also adds depth to the team, coming in with what Magill called, “Improvement that’s just off the wall.”
Still, it comes down to those five seniors.
“These seniors, they’ve been around and they’re going to lead this group on the floor,” Lightle said. “I’ve been seeing this class grow on and off the court and they’re just a very talented group of girls. The goal, not only for the seniors, but for this team, is to make some noise and make their presence felt on the court.”
With new coach Jacquie Whittle taking over, the Bearcats have high hopes for the season.
“I was ecstatic when I found out we were going to have five seniors on this team, and five or six juniors,” said first-year coach Whittle. “They’ve been really great. The leaders on the team have started to take shape.”
Paint Valley’s seniors include defensive specialist Taylor Mills, along with setter Josie Lott. Also back for their senior seasons is hitter Sydney Hodge, Smily Bales and Charlene Stout.
“I think we have a lot of growth on this team,” Whittle said. “Individually, we’ve matured a lot mentally, and the girls are really starting to understand the game.”