The Woodland and Cass volleyball teams have many things in common. They play in the same region, for one, and both have suffered through fallow stretches of late, with neither recently contending for a state tournament berth.
But while Cass is bringing six seniors back and might be on the upswing, Woodland will return just two players with any varsity experience at all.
“We’re really young, really inexperienced,” Woodland coach David Condon said. “We lost Madilyn Tuplin, she was all-region team, and then we lost Kalia Henry, who was also on all-region honorable mention, she was our setter. Both seniors, they were the two biggest hits, but then we also lost both of our outside hitters and one of our defensive specialists. And we lost a right-side also, so we lost pretty much our starting six.”
Junior Noelle Dickey and sophomore Lauren Morris will be the lone returners who saw playing time last year, and the rest of the lineup will be filled by youngsters and a couple upperclassmen who are new to the sport.
Senior Kaitlyn Hampton started playing last year and spent the whole year on JV. This year, she’ll be a key piece as a defensive specialist.
Sophomore Caroline Gore and junior Emmaline Payne will be the outside hitters, and they’re also completely new to the varsity team.
“We’re going to rely on them a lot,” Condon said. “They’re going to be playing pretty much all-around, all season probably, so those are a few of the players that we’re going to be depending a lot on.”
Three more girls are competing to be the setter, and Condon said he wasn’t sure who would eventually start in that spot.
Add it all up, and the Lady Wildcats are working with a patchwork lineup filled with inexperienced players.
Condon is optimistic, but they’ll have to improve a lot in-season to make their goals of showing well at the region tournament and maybe making it to state.
Cass, meanwhile, might have its best chance in a while to snap a streak that hasn’t seen the Lady Colonels make the playoffs since 2011.
While Woodland lost six seniors, Cass is bringing up a senior class with exactly that many, and that experience might be the difference.
“We’ve got six seniors this year, and they’ve been, all of them have been with us since they were freshmen,” Cass coach Chelsea Morris said. “Lana White, Macy Wright, Emily Tracy, Kyler Trouten, Delwyn Jones and Keila Sanchez are all seniors this year, so they’re good ones to look out for.”
Trouten, an athletic hitter who made it to the state track championships in the high jump, will probably be the leading scorer, but all six seniors will contribute.
With those six returning, Morris will have a good core in her first year as head coach. The former Lady Colonel player was an assistant coach last year after graduating college.
“It’s different, I enjoy it though,” Morris said about moving up to the head job. “I like being able to have more one-on-one contact with them and really getting down on their level and seeing what they need from me, from one another, just all around. It’s new, but it’s fun.”
Morris and the seniors will get some help from some talented younger players.
Junior Alexis Ware has height and athleticism, and is making her volleyball debut after missing the entirety of last year with a knee injury suffered while playing basketball.
She’ll play a big role for the basketball team this year, but has a chance to make her mark on the volleyball court too.
In the sophomore class, Madison Phillpott started at setter as a freshman, and is coming back in the same spot.
“She’s continually getting better,” assistant coach John Weeks said. “I traveled and saw a lot of travel ball players and a lot of schools, and Madison Philpott is the best setter in our region, period. She’ll put the ball on the net every time, and that really helps out our front row.”
Also a sophomore, Keegan Krause transferred in from Texas before the season, and she’ll be an immediate contributor.
With that much depth and a solid helping of senior experience, the Lady Colonels have a chance this season to break back into the playoffs following a period of futility that also saw a few winless seasons.
“We set some season goals earlier in the summer and we hope to win the county tournament, we hope to make it to at least the first round of state, and hope to continue on past that too,” Morris said. “So we’ve got big expectations for them this year because I know they’re capable of it. I think they’re handling it well. Several of them came up to me before the season even started and said, ‘Coach, we’re gonna go to state this year,’ so it’s not just me trying to pull it out of them, they are very internally motivated this year and willing to work hard to reach our goals.”