Many things need to go right to continue an extended winning streak.
Fundamentals have to be sound. Positive team chemistry is a must. But, there’s one factor perhaps more important than the rest: buy-in.
For McCracken County’s volleyball team, which hasn’t lost a set to an opponent in the First Region since the school opened six years ago, that buy-in has originated with a senior class that has only known success.
All six seniors have been front-and-center in three-consecutive First Region titles, as many subsequent trips to the state tournament and the team’s first-ever trip to the Final Four.
What’s more, they’ve been playing together longer than that – having taken the court together since fourth grade.
That amount of team chemistry is hard to replicate.
“It’s really fun and really good to see how we’ve grown as a team, and how far (we) six seniors have grown in our abilities and how we’ve grown as leaders,” setter Aubrey Thomas said. “I think we’re making sure everybody’s getting along, and everybody’s working hard and going 100 percent all the time and having a good work ethic.”
In the last two seasons, the Lady Mustangs have replaced such heavy-hitting talent as outside hitters Cate Hyde (Kentucky Wesleyan), Sarah Adams (Union University) and Hanna Rinehart.
Still, Thomas, Gracie Murt, Ainsley Golightly and Madison Jarvis are anchors for a McCracken County attack that, by all estimates, could open an opportunity for the Lady Mustangs to make another lengthy postseason run.
“I think, for sure, we are (capable of going on a run) if we just work hard every day in practice,” Thomas said. “I think, this year, we’ve just focused on doing a lot fundamentally, just working over and over again. I think that’s really helped us a lot, just touches after touches.”
Having those seniors, said McCracken coach Tim Whitis – whose volleyball teams haven’t lost a set to First Region opponents since 2010 when he was at Lone Oak – has been invaluable.
“They were all a part of (the last two postseason runs),” said Whitis, who was the National Federation of High Schools 2017-18 Coach of the Year for Kentucky. “They were all there. That would be nice (to go again).”
Juniors stepping up, too, for McCracken
Makenzie Mason, Drew Mullinax and Jayda Harris, McCracken’s key juniors, are also game-tested, with lengthy playing time coming as sophomores last season.
“I think, as far as being able to attack the ball, the junior class has filled in those voids (left by previous graduating classes),” Whitis said. “We were deep to hit. They’re able to add to that senior group. This may be one of the better hitting teams I’ve had in a long time.”
Their contributions aren’t lost on Thomas, either.
“I think their hitting, just offense-wise, is really going to help us,” she said. “You’ve got Jayda, she’s really tall in the middle. She can put up a good block. Kenzie’s really aggressive on the outside and Drew is really aggressive not only in front of her, but as far as her defense. They’re doing a lot for us.”
Massac looking to improve from impressive 2018
Entering his 14th season at the helm at Massac County, Zach Miller’s group has a lot to replace this year.
Outside hitter Brooke Stepter is off to Rend Lake College, leaving behind team-highs and school records in digs, aces and overall scoring. Becca Jackson, a three-year starter at middle hitter, is gone, too.
But, there’s still enough talent to compete, Miller said.
Jessie Lewis (5-11) and Cali McGraw (6-3) are back and will be providing much-needed height at the net. Outside hitter Madison Hammonds, who spent significant time at the top of the stat sheet last year, will be looking to fill some of the void left by Stepter and Jackson.
“We had a fantastic summer and competed in numerous tournaments,” Miller said. “It gave us a chance to develop the team chemistry that is so necessary in volleyball. Our offensive speed of attack is not where it needs to be though, so that will be a big focus come August. I’m very excited to see our girls take their talents around Southern Illinois. I know they will represent Massac County High School with excellence.”
Last ride for Cima at CFS
This will be Christian Fellowship standout Abigail Cima’s last hurrah, as the senior prepares to graduate at the end of the school year.
Cima has been an integral part of CFS’s success at the All “A” level and in the region at large, culminating in a 19-11 record in 2018.
Expect her to continue performing at a high level this year.
Lady Marshals entering ’19 with new skipper
Marshall County has a wealth of experience returning on the court for first-year coach Laura Kinder, who took over for Dan Langhi – who is now exclusively in the role of girls’ basketball coach, after splitting those duties last season.
Perhaps the most impactful of those returners is sophomore Halle Langhi – Dan’s youngest daughter – who provides a tall presence at the net, standing at 6-foot-1.
Senior Clara Bradley and junior McKenzie Elkins were also key contributors a season ago, with a good chance of continuing that trend this year.
“I am looking forward to a successful season,” Kinder said. “I believe we have the talent and potential to take us deep into postseason play, so we are going to work hard every day to try to make that happen.”
Volleyball teams from the coverage area
Coach: Adam Solomon
2018 record: 17-22
Players to Watch: Isabella Myers, Morgan Blankenship
Outlook: “ The Bombers are returning many of its varsity core for the 2019 season, contradictory to the last two reset button seasons. Despite still being young, the Bombers are anchored by a veteran back row. Ballard Memorial looks to showcase an improved offense with multiple players being able to score. Ballard Memorial is looking to make a significant improvement from the past two seasons.” – Solomon
Coach: Whitney Wiley
2018 record: 12-18
Players to Watch: Taylor Owens, Aubrey Wiley
Outlook: “We have a few returning varsity players, so for us this is a rebuilding year. We lost seven players, but gained many great athletes. As always, we are looking for a winning season and a district championship. With a whole new team, I’m expecting them to work to put the pieces together as a team and make each other better every practice and every game. The group I have this year are all very hard workers. They give it their all every time they’re on the court and I believe that is something many haven’t seen in a Carlisle County volleyball team. Once all the pieces are put together, I believe we will surprise a lot of people.” – Wiley
Coach: Lindsey Jones
2018 record: 11-10
Coach: Suzie Burnett
Players to watch: Abigail Cima
2018 record: 19-11
Coach: Rhet McMullen
2018 record: 11-16
Coaches: Amy Chicoine and Daniel Farmer
2018 record: 8-14
Players to watch: Jasmine Reeves, Kyisha Everett, Jada Martin
Coach: Merry Williams
2018 record: 2-14
Coach: Bret Cariveau
2018 record: 30-9 (First Region runners-up)
Players to watch: Taylor Courtney, Audrey Dowdy, Abby Seavers
Coach: Matt Gardner
2018 record: 11-21
Players to watch: Carrigan Dowdy, Leigh Ann Jones, Kenzee Hannon, Alexis Bartolo, Riley Barber
Outlook: “All varsity players return from a team that won the First District for the fifth consecutive year. We will have multiple three- and four-year players on the court at all times, so experience is a plus. Expect to continue to improve as a program, to continue to excel in the First District, and to compete for the All ‘A’.” – Gardner
Coach: Laura Kinder
2018 record: 16-16
Players to watch: Halle Langhi, Clara Bradley, McKenzie Elkins
Massac County (Ill.)
Coach: Zach Miller
2018 record: 28-9 (River to River Conference Champions)
Players to watch: Jessie Lewis, Cali McGraw, Madison Hammonds, Jenna Bunting
Outlook: “Our X-factors this season seem to be our right side hitters, Macy Pierce and Jenna Bunting. If they develop the ability to hit with consistency and block effectively, we can be tough to beat.” – Miller
Coach: Erica Isbell
2018 record: 12-11
Players to watch: Desi Thomas, Madi Felts
Outlook: “We are expecting to rebuild this season. We have some young players that show promise for the future, but also have some players that are experienced and filling leadership roles. Our players are constantly improving and competing for playing time. The Lady Cards have worked hard this summer to prepare and we look forward to the season starting.” – Isbell
Coach: Tim Whitis
2018 record: 33-9 (First Region champions)
Players to watch: Aubrey Thomas, Gracie Murt, Ainsley Golightly, Madison Jarvis, Makenzie Mason, Drew Mullinax, Jayda Harris
Outlook: “This may be one of the better hitting teams I’ve had in a long time.” – Whitis
Coach: Jennifer Westbrook
2018 record: 7-15
Coach: Carl Eligio
2018 record: 20-11
Players to watch: Katelyn Shumaker
Outlook: “As a team, we gain lots of experience playing together last year. We are excited about this year and we are very optimistic.” – Eligio
Coach: Tia Kline
2018 record: 4-16