Elmore County’s volleyball team ready for another title defense

Staff / The Observer

Elmore County head caoch Kim Moncrief looks on as her Lady Panthers battle Monroe County in the first round of the 2017 Class 4A Tournament.

It has been almost a decade since the last time the Elmore County volleyball team lost a match in the area tournament. Last year’s team grabbed its ninth consecutive area title and now the Panthers are chasing after No. 10.

“This can be double digits this year,” Elmore County senior Brianna Baker said. “It’s a lot of pressure to think about but we’re mostly excited to get the chance to carry on this tradition. We just have to keep our heads level.”

The Panthers have 11 players returning from last year’s roster and none of them wants to be a part of the team that allows the streak to be broken. ECHS coach Kim Moncrief admitted the streak cannot be ignored but she knows there is a lot of work to be done before the team is ready to take home another trophy.

“Of course, the girls will talk about it a lot,” Moncrief said. “It’s a goal we always set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. It’s something they really want to do and they push for it. There’s a lot we still need to do to get us prepared for those games and then we can focus on that once October gets here.”

Elmore County has had a busy offseason, including a trip to Auburn for a team tournament and home play dates against Reeltown and Benjamin Russell. Despite the number of returning players, there were still some concern over the losses from last year’s roster but Moncrief said the transition has been smooth through the summer.

“I think our teamwork has been pretty good,” Moncrief said. “We have some new faces on the team but the fact they were able to find some chemistry and work well together so early impressed me. I’m hoping that will build throughout the rest of the season.”

One of the key issues for the Panthers to deal with is the graduation of Madison Traylor. Moncrief said she was the team’s leader both on and off the court and admitted the talent is tough to replace but she is confident in the returning seniors.

Baker, the team’s libero, is joined by Mirriam Foster, Alexis Esco, Katie Pack and Hayden Hughes for a strong senior class. Foster is in her third year as an outside hitter with the varsity roster and she said the transition has been tough but the group of seniors have worked well together so far.

“She’s definitely been a big loss but we’ve been working hard to fill that position she has left,” Foster said. “We have all been finding ways to help with that and I think we’ve done a pretty good job.”

While the senior class has built a strong chemistry together, the team continues to work on building that throughout the whole team. With Esco returning as the team’s top setter, things should come easier for Foster and the other attacking players including Katie Pollard, CJ Thornton and Seanna O’Daniel.

“It makes it a lot better since you already know them so well,” Foster said. “You don’t have to adjust to them as much so when you have practiced with them for over a year, it definitely helps a lot more.”

Baker will get plenty of help from other defensive specialists on the roster, specifically Hughes, Emma Brown and Bailey Butler. Newcomer Kelley Green will join Emily Jones as a right side player while Madison Britt returns to the team to join Pack in the middle.

“Our ultimate goal is to try to create enough chemistry to work well together,” Baker said. “We can never give up on the ball and we want to play to the best of our ability.”

After winning the area tournament last season, the Panthers fell in the first round of the super regional in Montgomery. Elmore County is just two years removed from a trip to the Elite 8 and Moncrief said the team is hungry to get back but it has to be ready for a fight once the postseason arrives.

“Any time you have to match up against really good teams, you have to be ready,” Moncrief said. “We expect anyone at regionals to be able to beat anyone else so we have to prepare for that no matter what. Some of them have had a taste of it in the past so they’re ready to get back.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.