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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald The Elmore County volleyball team huddles together during a timeout.

With summer motoring forward toward the fall sports season, local volleyball coaches are beginning to evaluate which players could fill which roles for their squads in 2021.

Such is the case for Elmore County head coach Kim Moncrief.

Team activities and training sessions are underway. Tournaments and playdates have initiated some match play. 

The Panthers are getting their first indication of what their squad will look like this season.

“We’ve been having a couple days a week where we have open gym, and also workouts,” Elmore County head coach Kim Moncrief said. “Our girls will come in and do some drills, and also with the workouts they’re lifting weights and doing some conditioning.”

Elmore County attended its first playdate of the summer against a selection of opponents in Guntersville, Alabama last Thursday.

Among the squads the Panthers faced were Jacksonville and Jasper, both teams that made the state tournament in 2020. Elmore County was missing three of its returning starters for the event.

“I thought we did really well. We hung in there and battled,” Moncrief said. “Without all of our starters, I thought we did extremely well with that.”

Despite falling short in those two matches, the Panthers picked up a victory against Lee at the Guntersville playdate.

Those playdates provide an opportunity for Moncrief to tweak and test different lineups as she deals with the turnover typical of high school sports.

Elmore County lost its top setter from last season in then-senior Chloe Andress. The Panthers run a two-setter system and will rely on the second setter from 2020, sophomore Abbi Williams, to replace some of Andress’ assist production.

A few names are in play to help alongside her, Moncrief said. Sophomore Anabelle Orr showed great strides at the team’s playdate. Junior Courtney Sides is out with shin splints but still very much in the mix. Junior Lizzy Brown is versatile enough to slide into the role if needed.

“It’s going to depend on what we’re going to need at that time, which one of those three it will be,” Moncrief said. “Abbi will be the one that comes in and takes Chloe’s position as first server, Abbi’s pretty good at serving.”

The competition for spots and rotational order won’t be written in permanent ink when the season begins, however.

“Things change. I don’t ever really end with the same lineup I start with,” Moncrief said, laughing.

One player whose production the Panthers don’t have to replace is that of junior Coranda Lozada.

A player who posted a near 100-100 season in terms of kills and digs last year with 95 and 96, respectively, Lozada has been working to improve her skills on the club circuit this offseason. She’s not the only Elmore County player to do so, Williams being among the others that joined a club team.

“I expect that she’ll come back just as strong as she was, if not stronger than last year,” Moncrief said about Lozada.

Defense will be one of the primary focuses for the Panthers as the season nears its Aug. 24 start date.

The team is working to add a few new offensive sets to its schematics as well, part of which may involve moving Brown to the left side as a hitter.

But Moncrief is confident in her team’s defensive abilities with the players it has returning, including senior CJ Thornton and junior Hailey O’Brien alongside those listed above, and will work to accentuate that strength.

“If the other team can’t score they can’t win, so we’re gonna try to really focus on defense,” Moncrief said.