VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: Lady Colonels hope to get over the hump and win region | Sports

WILLIAMSBURG — Can Whitley County take the next step and bring home another 13th Region championship?

Many believe David Halcomb’s Lady Colonels have a good chance after Whitley County posted a 26-9 record last season, reaching the 50th District and 13th Region finals before bowing out to Corbin.

“Our girls are excited to get the season started,” Halcomb said. “They’ve put in a lot of work over the spring and summer and are looking forward to consistently getting matches in. I think we have a great coaching staff in place that will challenge our kids and continue to help them in achieving their goals.

“We have six players returning, who played a lot last season, which will pay dividends for us I believe. The nucleus of our team has a year of varsity experience now, which we didn’t have last season. Additionally, several of our girls played club volleyball either with Horizon or K2 during the offseason, which is the most our program has ever had — there’s a lot of buy-in from these girls. I have seen tremendous improvement with them. I think we have an opportunity to play the game at a high level. We need to keep improving in every aspect of the game and maintain a positive team culture — if we do that we can be really very good by October.”

With a lot of talented players returning, the Lady Colonels look to be tough to beat once again this season.

“Jaelyn Brackett will play middle for us again this season,” Halcomb said. “She was one of the most improved players we had last year and at the end was one of the best blockers in the region. She is hitting the ball better now and will provide offense for us in the middle. Jaelyn is very athletic, which enables her to get pin to pin very quickly.

“Kaytlynn Collier will be our primary setter and we will depend on her to lead our team,” he added. “She works extremely hard and gets to just about every second ball. She is very crafty with the ball and is very good at putting it in a space for our hitters to attack. Kaytlynn is also one of our best servers. I would consider Kylee Brown as our utility player. I would feel comfortable playing Kylee at just about any position on the floor. She is a tremendous passer on defense for us, which is why she played libero last season. I have been impressed with her play of late as an outside hitter too. Kylee is our emotional leader — she brings a lot of energy to our team and we need her to continue to do that.

“Eliza Irwin is one of our two seniors on the team,” Holcomb continued. “Eliza will play back row defense again for us. She is one of our best back row attackers and is a consistent server as well. Marissa Douglas gives us a tremendous offensive presence as an outside hitter. Marissa is athletic and can score us points in many ways. She hits the ball hard, but she also reads the floor well and can put the ball in those open areas of the court. She will also put pressure on our opponents with her serve. She has improved her defense a lot too in the offseason.”

Halcomb said several players who didn’t get much varsity time last season could end up playing pivotal roles for Whitley County this season.

“Megan Gibbs has improved tremendously since last season and has become one of our better passers, she has also become a solid front row hitter as well,” he said. “I am really pleased with how focused Megan is this season. Ally Stack is also much improved from last season and has done a good job for us with her passing and playing on the right side. Jadyn Thacker is our other senior and is primarily a defensive player who can help us in that area.

“I have asked a lot from Makayla Frazier and Emily Gaylor this offseason,” Halcomb added. “They have worked hard with their setting, which can really help us down the road. This also enables them to be great options as right side hitters on the front row, along with their ability to block and set. They both have a great understanding of the game. Sophomore Addison Siler has gotten better all summer and I think she will have a breakout season for us this year. She will be our other middle hitter opposite of Jaelyn. Addison provides us with another presence at the net with her blocking ability. She is continuing to work on her timing with Kaytlynn and has had glimpses of putting the ball down very effectively. Ciara Pittman will provide us with depth as an outside hitter. Ciara was one of our best hitters on our JV squad last season and had to overcome a severe ankle injury. She works hard and is one of our vocal leaders.”

Halcomb believes his team has numerous strengths this season along with some concerns.

“I think the biggest strength of this team is simply their love for the game of volleyball and their desire to improve,” he said. “I think they are a unified group and want to do well. Another strength I think we will have this season is our depth and versatility at most positions. As a coach, it gives me options to tinker with line-ups and get players some experience in different positions.

“My biggest concern for this team and it’s pretty much the same with every team — serving and serving receive,” Halcomb added. “Those are the two most important areas of the game of volleyball. We must serve consistently and not give away points by having service errors. Generally, I think we will be a good serving team, but we need to stay focused and be able to target serve as much as possible. Another concern is that we don’t communicate on the floor as well as we’d like for them to. Sometimes it’s that they are communicating, just not loud enough. I do feel we have improved in this area over the summer though.”

The Lady Colonels will be tested early and often once again. Halcomb has put together a solid slate that will have Whitley County prepared for once postseason play begins.

“When thinking about our schedule, I must include our summer camps,” he said. “We attended a team camp at Cedarville University in Ohio that enabled our girls to get position instruction and then play matches in the evenings. We followed that up by attending the Munciana/K2 team camp in Knoxville and several of our girls attended camp at University of the Cumberlands. They have played a lot of volleyball that has prepared our team for the season.

“I do feel I have put together a schedule that will have us prepared for postseason play,” Halcomb added. “We have a packed schedule that consists of all our common 13th Region opponents and a couple of the better teams from the 12th Region. We are also entered in four tournaments, including the new 2A State Sectionals. This is early on in our schedule and will be a good indicator for us as to where we stand with other quality teams in our area.

“We will also play in the Rocky Top Classic in Sevierville, our First Priority Volleyball Classic and the East KY Tourney of Champions in Rowan County,” he continued. “We will see a variety of teams, which will have us prepared for postseason play.”

So can this year’s version of the Lady Colonels make a run in the postseason?

“If we continue to improve in all areas of the game and our girls stay unified towards our established visions and goals, we will be right in the thick of it for a district and region championship,” Halcomb said. “It’s just an honor for me to get to coach this team — just a good group of girls, and good families in our volleyball program. These kids inspire me to be a better coach and a better person. I want nothing but the best for them.”

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