Holtville VB practice

Holtville started its season with three days of practice last week.

High school programs are forced to deal with replacing graduated athletes every year but some years are tougher than others. The Holtville volleyball team had one of its most successful seasons the program has ever seen last year but after losing five players from that roster, the Bulldogs have to find a way to fill the holes without taking a step back in the wrong direction as a program.

Despite knowing the challenges her team is facing, Holtville coach Alison Franklin has been pleased with what her team has shown during the offseason.

She said the leaders have done a good job pushing the rest of the team to work hard and now it’s time to see it all come together on the court.

“I told them we’re like 11 little puzzle pieces that we are trying to put together,” Franklin said. “We lost our leading scorer, our libero, so we’ve got a lot we need to replace. That’s what we’re working on right now so we can find a rotation of girls that work really well together.”

Holtville did not participate in any play dates during the summer but the Bulldogs did hold a one-day team camp where Franklin said she saw the team grow closer together. The team returns only five players from last year’s roster but everyone is confident in what the newcomers are bringing to the table this season.

“The girls coming up from junior varsity got a lot of playing time at that level last season,” Franklin said. “Of course, they’ll have to adjust to the speed of the game and new positions but we’re hoping that playing time last year will help with the transition to the varsity level.”

A new group of seniors is looking to step up to fill the shoes left by the previous group and they have high expectations for themselves. Brooke Cooper, Alexus Hindman and Katie Henley all saw significant playing time last season and they will be joined by Katelyn Powell as the group looks to become leaders for the younger girls.

“I’m trying to work harder and be a leader for the team since we lost so many players from last year,” Cooper said. “This year it feels like we’re a lot more connected with the younger group so we just have to believe in each other.”

Hindman leads all returning players with 71 kills from last season but Karsyn Findley was not far behind (61) and is expected to make a bigger impact this season. Kelsey Franklin returns as the team’s top setter after recording 152 assists last season and she will be backed up by Gabby Bull. The outside hitters have plenty of experience with the returning setters and they expect that to help with the transition into the new season.

“We have a lot of hitters but that’s a good problem to have,” coach Franklin said. “In volleyball, you have days when one is off and one is on so it’s going to make them try to be more consistent so we can find our best hitters in the best spot.”

There is no doubt the Bulldogs lost plenty of talent from last year’s squad but Franklin believes the players coming in may do a better job as true volleyball players.

“I think last year’s team had a lack of experience because some of those girls took off from volleyball before coming back their senior year,” Franklin said. “I think this year’s team has more players that have played more consistently so our first practice almost felt like we were already half way through August.”

The Bulldogs get their season started with a home match against Marbury on Aug. 27 but there are already eyes on the area matchups with Elmore County and Handley which begin in September. Elmore County has won nine consecutive area titles and while Holtville is focused on just progressing to next round, Franklin admitted ending that streak would feel pretty good.

“It’s always the hurdle,” Franklin said. “We would love to win it and be able to host the area tournament but ultimately our goal is to finish first or second and go to the next round. We just want to do better than we did the year before at super regionals.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.