Morrilton, St. Joseph volleyballers counting on experience

Donna Lampkin Stephens Contributing Writer Published September 1, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
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Morrilton and Conway St. Joseph, two of the traditional volleyball powers in the River Valley & Ozark Edition coverage area, opened the season earlier this week aiming for more glory in 2013.

With four starters returning from a team that reached the quarterfinals of the Class 5A State Tournament last year, Morrilton’s Lady Devil Dogs look forward to a successful year.

Patti Hill, in her 15th season as head of the Lady Devil Dog program and her 34th year in the school district, led her charges to state championships in 2002 and ’03 and a runner-up finish in 2000.

“It’s a new season, but as always, we want to compete to advance to the state tournament,” Hill said on the eve of the new season.

Last year, as the third seed from the 5A-West, after Shiloh Christian and Alma and ahead of Vilonia, the Lady Devil Dogs knocked off Pulaski Academy in the first round of the state tournament, 15-11 in the fifth set, before falling to Batesville in three.

Returning starters include senior hitter Chloe Vaught, junior setter Shelbi Collins, senior hitter Anna Adams and senior Hart Beijen.

Top newcomers include junior hitter Mashala Flakes, junior middle blockers Shamia Wright and Jordin Stinnett, and junior libero Lyndsey Jones.

The 5A-West also includes Clarksville, Greenbrier, Harrison and Huntsville.

Morrilton opened the season Tuesday with a tri-match against Paris and Russellville at Russellville. This week, the Lady Devil Dogs will play host to Russellville on Tuesday and open conference play Thursday at home against Huntsville.

Conway St. Joseph

Experience should be a factor for Conway St. Joseph this fall, coach Luke Davis said.

“We went from a very young team last year with no seniors to an old team this year with five starting seniors,” said Davis, 117-34 overall starting his seventh season at the helm of the Lady Bulldog program. “How well we do will depend on if the seniors can use their experience to their advantage.”

The five returning senior starters are Meagan Briggler, a 5-8 outside hitter; Rachel Briggler, a 5-5 setter; Madison Seiter, a 5-7 utility player; Linzy Hoelzeman, a 5-6 utility player; and Sydney Spradlin, a 5-5 libero.

“A couple of these girls have been playing since their freshman and sophomore years,” Davis said. “I am looking for those girls to step up and lead us in the right direction.”

Madeline Moix, a 5-9 junior middle hitter, is another returning starter. Holly Rega, a 5-7 sophomore utility player, is also a returning letterman.

St. Joseph finished 17-13 last year, including 9-5 in the 3A-Central for a third-place finish in the conference. The Lady Bulldogs also finished third in the district tournament and fell in the opening round of the Class 3A State Tournament to Bergman, runner-up in the North, 15-6 in the fifth set.

For several years, St. Joe has been one of the top teams in Class 3A. Davis took the Lady Bulldogs to back-to-back state runner-up finishes in 2008 and ’09.

The 3A-Central also includes Atkins, Conway Christian, Harding Academy, Mayflower, Nemo Vista, Perryville, Riverview and Rose Bud. Harding Academy won the district tournament last year and reached the state semifinals as the defending champion. Conway Christian was the second seed from the Central; Atkins was the fourth. Those two, like the Lady Bulldogs, exited after the first round.

“I think early, the conference will be wide open for the taking,” Davis said. “Mayflower and Atkins should have several returning starters that might give them a slight edge. I hope we are in the mix as the year goes on.”

St. Joe opened the season with a conference match at Perryville on Tuesday. The Lady Bulldogs then played host to Episcopal Collegiate on Wednesday and resumed conference play at Atkins on Thursday. This week, they will play at Nemo Vista on Thursday.

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