With 29 state tournament appearances, nine finals appearances and five state championships, the goals are always lofty for the Lady Rebels. This season is no exception, as coach Wendy Ratliff doesn’t shy away from saying this year’s talented team could again compete for a state title.
It starts with the defense, led by libero Meredith St. Clair.
“She’s extremely aggressive and never lets the ball fall,” Ratliff said. “She’s very consistent and a floor leader who is super positive.”
Halle Dykes and McKenzie Littleton add plenty of reinforcement in the back. Makkenzie Compton is a left-handed setter with South running a 5-1 set at times. Freshman Olivia Delung will contribute in the 6-2 and has a ton of potential.
Maddie Townsend is described as a beast in the middle, while Abbey Jayne is a tough matchup in the middle and as an outside hitter. Carissa Comsa returns for her senior season after not playing since eighth grade, but she’s also expected to give the Lady Rebels even more versatility.
Add in Mollie Leslie and Katie Watson, and South is the standard that the other teams look to achieve.
Former Sullivan Central coach Tracy Graybeal brings a new style of play for the Lady Patriots with sisters Paxton and Ashton Adkins leading the way on the court.
Paxton, a senior, is a libero who Graybeal said dives gracefully after years of ballet training. Ashton is the team’s main setter.
Another pair of sisters, Sydney and Gracey Byrd, play as outside hitters, as do Hannah Daniel, Zoe Johnson and Kendall Smith.
There are six seniors overall including Paxton Adams, Sydney Byrd, Mattie Gouge, Daniel and a pair of middle blockers, Lauren Ledford and Kenzie Thomas.
The depth gives Graybeal, who said the core group doesn’t know how good it really is, the flexibility to change up the rotations.
If the Lady Cyclones want to continue their recent tradition of three straight regional appearances, coach Leslee Bradley believes they have to do a better job defensively from the net back.
Deanna Hull has the task of replacing all-state libero Mary Beth Biggs.
Senior standout Sydney Goodsell will be a vital player, both in the back defensively and as an outside hitter, while Hannah Roster is key defensively at the net. Other defensive specialists are Kennedy Morelock and Milli Pierce.
The Lady Cyclones are using two setters in Morgan Smith and Josie Lyons. Brittany Kitchens looks to be effective as both a setter and outside hitter. Middle blockers include Kallista DePrimo and Macey Burleson.
Seniors Alyssa Giles and Maci Cloninger are expected to lead the Lady Cougars.
Cloninger is the libero, taking charge on the back row, while Parker Hurd is a top defensive specialist.
Laiken Hoback will be setting and she has been working with the hitters, including Giles, who has four years of varsity experience. Other hitters include Elaina Vaughan, a 6-foot-1 sophomore, Avery Leming and Lexi Cyr. Cassidy Cotter in the middle will ‘turn some heads,’ while Taylor Wilson on the outside.
The Lady Devils have experience with five seniors and four juniors, but it’s a freshman who could make the most impact. Coach LeAnn Lane describes Shelby Miller as a 6-foot-1 middle blocker with great hands.
“With those seasoned players, we should have a lot of competition,” Unicoi coach LeAnn Lane said. “My motto this year is top three, season three. Our freshman, Shelby Miller, is also going to bring a lot to the game.”
Top hitters and setters include Sarah Grace Larkey, junior three-year starter Blake Hall and Ashtan Vance on the outside.
Chloe Powers and Sydney Rogers are strong on the back row. Powers, who had 300 digs last season, will now move to libero.
Seniors Margaret and Renie Morrow give the Lady Longhorns both size and experience on the front row.
Another outside hitter, Taylor Parsons, has started since she was a freshman. Junior Emily Garr will be another middle hitter, while Kaylee Wittenberg and Taylor Cox are capable setters.
Bella Miller will be on the back row, along with libero Natalie Winters.