ON THE COVER: Player to watch - Breylin SmithREAD ONLINE
Returning starters needed to propel Greenbrier, Vilonia volleyballersOriginally Published September 22, 2013 at 12:00 a.m.
Updated September 20, 2013 at 1:36 p.m.
Faulkner County rivals Greenbrier and Vilonia returned a combined 11 starters when volleyball season started recently, so look for both to contend for a berth in the Class 5A State Tournament.
The top four teams from the 5A-West, which also includes Alma, Clarksville, Harrison, Huntsville, Morrilton and Shiloh Christian, will move on to the postseason. Last year, Shiloh Christian, Alma, Morrilton and Vilonia advanced, in that order. Vilonia fell in the opening round to Little Rock Christian, top seed from the Central; the Lady Warriors advanced to the championship match, where they fell to Nettleton.
It was Vilonia’s third consecutive state-tournament appearance.
“Consistency seems to always be the topic of conversation at this point of the season,” said Vilonia coach Karla Ault, in her 16th season with the Lady Eagles. “If we can be consistent, our team has the potential to have a great season. Putting it all together at the right time is the key.
“Volleyball is such a team sport where literally everything depends on what each other is doing or has done. It’s finding the right chemistry.”
With six returning starters, five of whom are seniors, the Lady Eagles should be ahead of most teams in the chemistry department.
Back are seniors McKenzie Morris, a 5-8 outside hitter (second in kills last season); Hannah Schnebelen, a 5-5 defensive specialist (second in digs); Kyndal Clower, a 5-5 setter; Jessica Stanley, a 5-7 outside hitter; and Katie Gray, a 5-4 libero who led the Lady Eagles in digs last season. Junior Carly Whitehead, a 5-4 setter, also has starting experience.
Other returning lettermen are Madison Martinez, a 5-7 outside hitter who was out with injury at press time,
although Ault hopes to have her back in a few weeks; Rachel Hinson, a 5-7 junior outside hitter; and Alex Wilkins, a 5-7 middle blocker. Ault said Hinson and Wilkins will be strong additions this fall.
A key newcomer is Sydney Wader, a 5-11 sophomore middle blocker.
“She will be a strong presence in the middle with the loss of our two senior middles from last year’s team,” Ault said.
The coach said she expects Shiloh Christian, which returns several starters from last year’s conference championship squad, to again be the team to beat in the West.
“After that, I feel like it’s going to be a fight among the rest of us,” she said.
Cindy Hartman’s Lady Panthers struggled last year to a 9-15 overall finish (3-11 in the 5A-West), but with five starters back, the tide should turn this year.
“These girls learned a lot and got better and better,” said Hartman, starting her 23rd season as head of the Greenbrier program. “They have all worked hard in the offseason and have improved tremendously.”
Returning starters are senior outside hitter/middle hitter Marissa Hollenbaugh, senior outside hitter Makenzi Burrow, senior defensive specialist/middle hitter Hayley Heacox, senior setter Payton Starkey and junior middle hitter Kenzie Batterton.
Returning lettermen include senior defensive specialist Courtney Madden, senior outside hitter Heather Wilcox, junior setter/outside hitter Cameron Roberts, junior outside hitter/middle hitter Savannah Baker, junior setter/defensive specialist Katie Jones and junior outside hitter/middle hitter Sarah Langston.
Others expected to contribute to the varsity include sophomores Harlie Langston and Kobie Hartman.
“We have six wonderful seniors leading the team this year,” Hartman said. “Many will contribute in different roles. All of the girls played some varsity last year, so I am hoping their experience will shine through every night.
“Consistency and stability are the two characteristics I definitely expect out of this group. Most importantly, I am expecting them to contribute with their leadership and hard work.”
She said although she expects the West to be strong again, if the Lady Panthers can stay healthy, they have “a great chance” to make it to the state tournament.
“This whole group has set high expectations for themselves,” Hartman said. “This is the deepest team I have had in a few years. My hope is that they will continue to challenge each other to get better every day.”
None Donna Stephens can be reached at .