Stanhope Elmore's Flavia Freeney

Despite losing eight seniors and arguably the best player in program history from last year’s class, the Stanhope Elmore volleyball team and head coach Flavia Freeney turned in a stellar season in 2022.

Stanhope Elmore, in Freeney’s second year and first full-season as head coach of the Mustangs, finished the year with a 10-8 overall record and a 4-2 record in area play.

The Lady Mustangs clinched their sixth-consecutive playoff berth after defeating Carver Montgomery in the first round of the area tournament, then entered the sub-regional tournament as the No. 2 seed.

In the sub-regional, Stanhope Elmore lost its first match it played, a 3-2 loss to McAdory. But in the loss, Stanhope Elmore made history by being the first team in program history to win a set in the sub-regionals.

For that reason, Freeney has been named the Herald’s 2022 Volleyball Coach of the Year.

“It was a positive season,” Freeney said. “We didn’t have anybody that was our strong arm. Last year with Kelbi (Johnson), it was easy to rely on her. But this group had to rely on each other and they had to learn how to pull together as one rather than just follow someone else’s lead. They had to all take a role in leading the team in one point or another. They responded well to that.”

Johnson was a stand out player for Stanhope before she graduated in the Spring of 2022. But she wasn’t the only person on the team that played significant minutes.

The 2023 squad returned only two very experienced players, Zyon Holmes and Shakeria Washington. The rest of the squad was filled from the junior varsity team, but they were a talented bunch.

The biggest difference for Stanhope was having a full offseason with Freeney. She didn’t get an offseason with her 2021 squad. She was promoted to head coach just a few weeks before the season began, so they jumped straight into the season.

But they were able to actually practice and attend camps and get work done in the summer. That helped the inexperienced squad progress more than Freeney could have imagined.

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“Being our first full summer, we were able to do workouts and that went a long way this year,” Freeney said. “We went to AUM camps, and we stayed busy and they responded well to all of the workouts. They enjoyed it and they had a great time doing it. I think winning like we did, that was big and they realized that.”

Stanhope’s season saw some ups-and-downs, but the majority of its losses came from the hands of Wetumpka or Elmore County. Some of those came early in the season, as the team got better and better as the year went on.

At the beginning of October, Stanhope had one of its toughest matches in a home game against Carver Montgomery. Carver, much like Stanhope, improved over the course of the season, and the two had a slugfest.

Stanhope Elmore ended up winning, 3-2, and locked up the No. 2 seed in the area tournament. That didn’t matter too much, as they had to face Carver again in the area tournament to clinch a spot in sub-regionals.

Stanhope Elmore turned in one of its best performances of the season in the area tournament, winning 3-0 (25-21, 25-21, 25-21) to sweep Carver and clinch the playoff berth.

That level of play continued as they faced No. 1 seed McAdory in the sub-regionals. McAdory won the first set, 26-24, but Stanhope came back and won the second set for the first set win in sub-regional history for the school.

Stanhope was able to tie the game, 2-2, but eventually fell in the fifth and final set to end their season.

“They were stepping up and doing what needed to be done to win,” Freeney said of the team’s play. “That’s what made losing at sub-regionals so hard. It was just those few mistakes that we had that fell right at the wrong time. You get those mistakes in a match and you cans till win, but our mistakes were at critical moments. …

“I’ve been telling them from the start that we had a great chance and that we could win. A lot of times, kids think we’re just saying that because we’re the coach and trying to make them feel good. This time, they realized I wasn’t just saying that and that they were were a great volleyball team and be even better.”