The end of the 2018 season was one to forget for the Stanhope Elmore volleyball team and the Mustangs seem eager to move on from it. With only six players returning from last year’s roster, it may not be too difficult to leave those struggles in the past and SEHS coach Virginia Barber said she has her players focused on what they can do this season.
“This is a completely different team,” Barber said. “We have really put last year behind us. Some of the girls have been to regionals and they want to get back there to do something better than what we have in the past but to do that, we have to focus on this year’s team.”
This year’s squad has some returning talent but more than half of the team is made up of players who were not on the varsity or junior varsity squad for the Mustangs last season. Barber has invited several new volleyball players into the team and they are still in the process of learning the game with the season quickly approaching.
“The biggest thing we’ve been working on is fundamentals this year,” Barber said. “We lost a lot of height and experience from last year’s team so we recruited some of our basketball players to join the volleyball team to get some height back. We really had to start with teaching them the basics.”
Barber said some of the girls who have been playing a while stepped in to do some peer teaching which really helped transition the new girls into the game and build team chemistry during the offseason. The Mustangs have to replace last season’s strong front line which included Alisson Evans, Gabby Taylor and Lotte Preusser and the newcomers will be relied on to fill some of those roles.
Kaleiah Hollis, Amya Thompson, Nevaeh Perryman and Tamia Young all came over from the basketball team and are eager to prove themselves on a new court. Hollis said she has gotten inspiration from the old players, specifically Evans who was her former basketball teammate.
“I want to work harder and learn to get my hit right,” Hollis said. “There’s a lot of pressure there because I feel like I have to live up to their potential. I still talk to Alisson and they’re just telling me to work hard and if I ever need their help to just let them know.”
Meanwhile, the returning players have to balance becoming leaders with improving on their own skills. Harley Bowen and Yazmin Bell are the only two returning seniors and they will be looked to as the team’s leaders early in the season.
“It’s really all about the skill goals for me,” Bowen said. “I want to start placing the ball better, being better at staying firm and really just becoming a better teammate and a leader on the court.”
Alex Green joins Kelbi Johnson, Rikki McAdams and Lindsey White as the other returning players from last year’s team. All of those players were mainly focused on defense last season but the Mustangs are moving players around during the preseason to find their best rotation. Green said she enjoys getting to play all over the court because it forces players to develop skills in all aspects of their games.
“I want to be a more consistent player all around,” Green said. “I don’t really know what position I’m going to play yet but I’ve gotten to work with everything so it’s about getting better overall. I don’t care where I play, I just want to be better all over.”
The Mustangs open their season Aug. 26 but it may still be too early to tell how ready the newcomers will be when it is time to hit the court. However, Barber said she is not concerned with that as long as she continues to see progress and a strong work ethic.
“We’re just going to keep improving on what we’ve been working on,” Barber said. “I just told them this is probably the most fun team I’ve ever coached. They are fun to be around and they play together. We’re the underdogs but we’re going to play hard and we’ll have fun.”
Stanhope won the area in the regular season last year but the Mustangs fell in the area tournament before being swept in the first round of super regionals. Barber said the team’s goal is to always compete in the area but it has to worry about the regular season first.
“Obviously we want to win the area again but we want to win the area tournament too this year,” Barber said. “Once we get to regionals, it’s a different caliber of ball so we have to focus now on our season and we’ll worry about that when it gets here.”