Ryleigh Hamm

Wetumpka's Ryleigh Hamm (10) returns as one of the Indians' top hitters this season.

Most volleyball programs would be content with back-to-back area championships but after some discouraging performances last season, Wetumpka is ready for a change. DeAnna Smith is entering her first season as coach of the varsity team and while she is happy to be inheriting the title streak, she wants to see more from her players.

“Like most teams, we always have high expectations,” Smith said. “Coming off of last year, it was a very disappointing season so even though we won area, there was a lot of disappointment building up to that. So, our goals this year are to have a winning record and be area champions again.”

Wetumpka finished last season with an 8-17 record, dropping its final seven matches of the regular season before getting the best of Selma and Stanhope Elmore in the area tournament. Seven players return from last year’s squad but they all want to see improved play and consistency on the court.

“I think the kids are really excited to see if everything we have done this summer comes to fruition,” Smith said. “We’re ready to play against an opponent that really matters so hopefully we’ll get off to a good start.”

Leading the way is the team’s lone senior Ryleigh Hamm. After rotating as one of the strongest hitters on the team last season, Hamm returns as an outside hitter and will be relied on during a majority of Wetumpka’s attacking plays.

“The other girls look up to her,” Smith said. “She has a really high volleyball IQ and she’s probably our most effective hitter. They look for not only her skill but her temperament on the court so she can help manage everyone else without getting frustrated herself.”

Hamm will have the help of returners Yennifer Gomez and Avery Jones who have experience at the net. The Indians will also add freshman Julie Boshell to a front line Smith believes is one of the biggest strengths.

Wetumpka will have to transition into a new duo of setters which include Kylie Wilson and Kaitlynn Walker.

“I have some good hitters,” Smith said. “I think we just mesh really well so the teamwork is there. It’s just about staying up mentally. When you go down a couple of points, you can’t get into that funk.”

Smith said her team can rely too much on momentum at times but that is something you have to deal with in volleyball. Fortunately for the Indians, they feel like their biggest strength is at the service line.

Wilson and Walker lead the way as the team’s top servers along with returning libero Erin Douglass. However, Smith said she has full faith in each player to get a good serve in when it’s needed.

“It’s definitely a confident boost,” Smith said. “I feel like everyone on our team can serve well. It’s just a matter of holding serve for the long term. Any of these girls in here can string together 20 in a row if we can hold serve.”

Returning players Morgan Causey and Khloe Harris will continue to play middle while Hannah Fabel rounds out the lineup on the right side.

Wetumpka has its eyes on another area title but it wants to see improvement on the court first and that starts Thursday when the Indians host Carver and Winterboro for a tri-match.

“I still want to emphasize one game at a time,” Smith said. “We can’t worry about area yet and last year is in the record books. It’s one game and one week at a time so hopefully, once we have some success, they’ll be able to build some confidence from that.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.