CHS volleyball Lady Hornets target trend reversal
After two winning seasons in past 10, improvement is modest goal
By PAUL STURM, C-T Sports Editor
At the end of Bob Long’s first season overseeing Chillicothe High School’s volleyball program, some numbers – total match wins (seven), winning percentage (.389), Midland Empire Conference record (1-6) – fell short of hopes.
One number, though – the 2020 squad had only three seniors at season’s start and ended with only two still participating – provided a ray of hope that the experience gained in the first year of best-of-5-games matches by the mostly-underclasswomen roster would provide the basis for considerable improvement this fall in Long’s second year after swapping coaching roles with now-girls’ tennis leader Karen Jackson.
While, to a large degree, the CHS squad on the floor at season’s start likely will be heavily-populated – possibly exclusively so – by returning starters or extensively-seasoned veterans, it won’t be quite as much so as it could have been.
While the graduation departure of hitter Ella Leamer and versatile all-MEC performer and multi-years starter Maya Snyder were a given after last year, another starter and two promising reserves with height decided to switch fall-sport pursuits in 2021.
Would-be returning all-MEC hitter Essie Hicks, a senior this school year, senior Clara Leamer, and junior Izzy Montgomery instead will be swinging clubs with the golf Lady Hornets, moves which might be related to the earlier (mid-October) conclusion of that sport’s play, in comparison to the volleyball schedule, which extends to the end of October or just beyond. Hicks is due to be a returning starter and Leamer and Montgomery likely top reserves for the basketball Lady Hornets this winter, whose preseason practices will begin very close to the start of November. Their sport swaps should mean a break of a couple of weeks for them before basketball practices begin ahead of what’s anticipated to be another very good CHS girls’ hoops season.
The volleyball team’s prospects figure to be diminished, however, both in the loss of the trio’s prospective contributions and the benefit of the experience they gained from playing time which could have been picked up by others the past couple of years.
Instead of lamenting those graduation and other losses, Long has focused on elevating the level of play of the half-dozen returnees with starting experience while bringing along potential new contributors.
The returning letterwomen – all of whom had extensive playing time in 2020 – cover most of the lineup positions.
Seniors Gracie West, among the squad’s most-effective hitters each of the past two seasons, and libero Makayla Vance return, as do junior hitter Anna Fisher, junior setter/outside hitter Jessica Reeter, junior defensive specialist Trista Tipton, and sophomore outside hitter/defensive specialist Delanie Kieffer. Reeter was the team’s primary setter the latter half of 2020. Fisher was one of the top servers.
With West and Fisher populating the nominal middle of the front line, the Lady Hornets hope to have a strong duo for not only “kill” shots, but also blockers who negate the impact of opponents’ spike attempts.
Vance, Reeter, Kieffer, and Tipton primarily will be looked to for floor coverage to deny opponents’ attempts at scoring, something they showed an occasional flair for last year.
With the loss of outside hitting which Snyder, the Leamers and Hicks significantly provided last season, Long is looking at a handful of newcomers to the varsity as possible replacements. That group includes senior Claire Ripley, juniors Claire Walker and Allison Higgins, and sophomores Emmy Dillon and Kayanna Cranmer.
Walker also could work into the middle hitter’s role, the coach indicates, while Higgins could serve as a setter at times and defensive specialist on occasion. Cranmer also is a defensive specialist possibility, Long reports.
Rounding out others who should see playing time are two more juniors – Halie Hill, a setter, and Madison Bergan, a defensive specialist.
All told, 30 players came out for volleyball – with only three of them seniors and 11 being freshmen.
The volleyball Lady Hornets’ opening action of 2021 will be at home next Thursday (Sept. 2) against Trenton, a foe CHS dominated in last year’s opener on its way to posting a 6-5 record outside the conference.
With only two winning seasons the past 10 years, goals are modest.
“We’re looking to win most or all of our seven non-conference matches,” Long says of the building process, “and move up in the MEC,” in which a victory over St. Joseph: Lafayette allowed the Lady Hornets spikers to finish 1-6 – seventh out of eight teams. Last year’s MEC champion, Maryville, went on to win the state’s Class 3 championship.