Brock Netter, Staff Writer
With volleyball season peeking around the corner, all local teams are getting ready for what they hope will be a successful year at the net.
Here’s a look at Washington and Miami Trace as the countdown to the first serve of the season begins to heat up.
Head coach: Ashley DeAtley, fifth season
2018 record: 14-9
2018 postseason finish: 3-1 loss to Logan Elm (25-22, 25-23, 15-25, 25-20) in Division II sectional semifinal
Although Washington Court House has never finished with a losing record under head coach Ashley DeAtley, it hasn’t tasted much conference or postseason success either.
That could change this year after losing just three seniors in Hannah Haithcock, Maddy Jenkins and Tabby Woods, and returning a slew of experienced players.
Replacing Haithcock’s production alone (259 kills, 193 digs and 55 aces) isn’t the easiest thing in the world to do. Factor in what Woods (141 digs and 27 aces) and Jenkins (53 kills, 49 digs and 47 aces) brought to the table and it makes the task even harder.
“Losing those three wasn’t easy. It takes away a little bit of depth for us this season,” DeAtley said. “But we have four seniors who have gone through some battles and have shown a lot of enthusiasm. Our younger players have stepped up nicely and we want to continue building off that momentum heading into this season.”
The show must go on, and the Blue Lions are lucky enough to bring back Rayana Burns for her senior season.
After logging 240 kills, 47 aces and 31 blocks last fall, she’ll be the Blue Lions’ go-to player at the net this year.
“She’s such an incredible athlete,” DeAtley said. “There’s nothing she can’t do on the court from a hitting standpoint. She times the ball really well and with how high she can jump, she’s easily our most athletic player. She’ll undertake a huge role for us this season.”
Burns isn’t the only returning impact player the Blue Lions welcome back.
Aaralyne Estep (251 digs), Halli Wall (579 assists, 143 digs, 33 aces) and Brittney Wilson (96 kills, 50 digs, 25 blocks, 19 aces) are all back as well.
“Halli is the quarterback of our team,” DeAtley said. “She’s such a consistent setter and always puts the ball where it needs to be to allow our players to make plays. Aaralyne hustles as much as any player I have and she’ll step up in her role this season. Brittney has gained a lot of varsity experience over the past couple of years so I look for her to elevate as well.”
One thing fans will notice watching Washington is that it’s not a very big team in terms of height. But for what the Blue Lions lack in height, DeAtley says, they’ll make up for with relentless hustle.
“We’re a team that never gives up and we’ll be a team that continues to play just by out-hustling others,” DeAtley said. “As long as our passing game is on point in serve receive and we use our speed to keep rallies going, I like our chances this season.”
Washington opens the season on Aug. 19 at home against Waverly.
Head coach: Doug Mace, fourth season
2018 record: 4-18
2018 postseason finish: 3-0 loss to Fairfield Union (25-13, 25-11, 25-15) in Division II sectional semifinal
Washington Court House has sat near the top of the FAC standings. Miami Trace has some work to do if it wants to get to that point.
After not cracking double-digit victories for the second consecutive season, the Panthers are regrouping. After losing just two seniors from last season, they’re hoping for a turnaround campaign.
“It’s been a long road for us. We’re trying to play at a quicker pace, but we’re not at that point just yet,” Miami Trace coach Dough Mace said. “It’ll take time but I believe we can get to that point and turn things around. We have five seniors who we’re going to rely on for a lot of leadership. We also have a couple of younger kids who could turn into our go-to players as long as they keep progressing and maturing every day, which could be a major plus for us.”
One void they’ll have to fill is losing do-it-all standout Ashley Campbell. She passed out 195 assists alongside 131 digs, 79 kills and 31 aces in her final season, leaving big shoes to fill for this year’s Panthers squad.
It’s never easy replacing your top player from a production standpoint, but Mace has two players in Olivia Filehman and Laura Robinson who he believes can take over the load and be the leaders of the team.
Filehman finished last season with team-highs of 85 kills and 21 blocks alongside 97 digs and 10 aces, while Robinson had 81 kills and 41 digs.
“They’ll be two players who supply most of the power at the net,” Mace said. “As long as we can set them up with solid passing, that’ll be our biggest strength.”
Grace Bapst returns to the floor and takes over as the team’s main setter after passing out 161 assists last fall. Chloe Scott, Delaney Eakins and Faith Morrison also return to the back row for the Panthers.
The last two seasons have been tough for Miami Trace, and while there’s bound to be some mores ups and downs, the Panthers believe they can compete for an FAC title this season.
“If everything comes together, there’s no reason we can’t win the conference,” Mace said. “Miami Trace hasn’t had a really strong background in volleyball in the past. Softball has done fairly well and girls basketball has been great over the past five years. We need to elevate ourselves and get to that level. We want to challenge for the league and hopefully put together a run in the tournament.”
The Panthers begin their year on Aug. 22 with a trip to Logan Elm.