Volleyball teams combine work, fun over summer

The Huntsville volleyball team poses for a picture at Oklahoma Baptist.

The Lady Eagles volleyball team this summer had a mixture of hard work and fun activities designed to build team chemistry, according to head coach Staci Williamson.

The summer kicked off with a sand volleyball day at Lake Fayetteville, later included a trip to Branson, Mo., and finished with a team camp in Huntsville, Williamson said. Also included was a team camp in Oklahoma.

The second-year head coach said some things have gone better in year two.

“It’s been really fun. It’s nice to have one year under my belt and come in actually knowing the girls, knowing their names and just kind of building off of last year,” she said last week. “One thing I want to do is just build team chemistry and I think that starts in the preseason.”

The senior high team attended a team camp in Oklahoma, and later spent time together in an Airbnb house in Branson.

“We cooked breakfast and dinner together. We went to Andy B’s on the Landing, an escape room and a bowling alley,” Williamson said.

The junior high volleyball team and girls basketball team had a “team bonding trip” earlier this week to Branson, with stops at White Water and Silver Dollar City.

Huntsville hosted team camps last week for seventh-graders, junior high and senior high teams.  On the final day of the camp last Thursday, Huntsville’s varsity played conference foes Berryville, Farmington and Gentry.

“The senior high, we usually go to Missouri State [in Springfield], but this year we went to Oklahoma Baptist [in Shawnee],” she said. “It’s a lot different than most camps we go to because we actually had to do drills and play with the Oklahoma Baptist girls, and they spent a lot of time working with the team. Then we got to play in a tournament later on.”

Last season, the Lady Eagles finished 14-16-2 overall and 3-9 in the 4A Northwest Conference.

Lost to graduation were Madilyn Mosley, Eleana May, Lauren Blocker, Dezeray Sulffridge, Cori Wylie and Kara Drewyor.

This year’s team includes just two seniors, April Hawpe and Ransom Herring. Four juniors and nine sophomores round out the team.

Courtney Remson is a junior transfer from Prairie Grove and will play on the back row, Williamson said. The other juniors are Madison Cozad, Morgan Shackelford and Paige Bennett.

“I was really impressed with our senior high team,” Williamson said of the trip to Oklahoma. “We’re really young this year. We lost a lot of seniors last year and so we have a lot of sophomores that are stepping up and playing varsity. There are only three returners from last year on the senior high team that got varsity playing time.”

Williamson said the sophomores are learning quickly the differences between junior high and varsity volleyball.

“The speed of the game is so much faster,” she said. “In junior high, we don’t spend a whole lot of time on blocking, just because not as many teams are hitting as aggressively, but the speed of varsity games is when we have to have blocks.”

This year’s team needs to be more consistent as the season progresses, Williamson said.

“Just volleyball IQ: knowing where to be. Our defense is a little bit different. We’re running a faster offense, trying to run more plays on different sets, and just trying to speed up our offense,” she said.

Williamson said she saw several players improve their play this summer.

Huntsville will open the 2019 season by hosting Siloam Springs on Monday, Aug. 26, beginning at 4 p.m. Other nonconference opponents this season will include Charleston, Rogers Heritage, Ozark and Eureka Springs. The varsity team also will compete in the Washburn Tournament in Missouri.

The team will compete against Berryville, Farmington, Gentry, Gravette, Harrison, Pea Ridge, Prairie Grove and Shiloh Christian in the 4A Northwest.

Shiloh finished 10-1 in conference last year, followed by Harrison and Pea Ridge at 10-2.

“I feel it’s going to be anybody’s game this year because ... we had a lot of starting seniors throughout the conference that are gone,” Williamson said. “I know Harrison lost their best middle and Shiloh lost their best outside, so a lot of teams are kind of rebuilding this year with a lot of new players.

“We’re in the same boat as anybody else. It’s kind of anybody’s game at this point, who wants it the most and who’s going to work the hardest this year. It should be a fun, competitive year.”

Williamson said the Lady Eagles will work to be more consistent and “still get more time on the court playing together, because we have a lot of people competing for that varsity spot and still trying to figure out who’s going to play where.”

Williamson said she’s been impressed with the team’s defense over the summer.

“They’ve improved so much from even the offseason, just being scrappy on defense,” she said. “I think we’re going to be peaking at the right time. We’re definitely not where we need to be, but they’re making progress every day.”

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