Friday, August 05, 2011

SPORTS>>NP ladies solid up front, need defensive work

Leader sports writer

The core of North Pulaski’s preseason can be summed up in two words – ball control.

It was a common theme for coach Ben Belton as the Lady Falcons kicked off their third week of summer volleyball practice on Thursday. They lost three days of practice this past week because of scheduled work to the gym floor at the Falcons’ Nest, work that never occurred.

“The girls are coming along – they’re getting in shape,” Belton said. “Our big concern is ball control – receiving the ball and making good passes. We’ve got some people who can play on the front row.”

The Lady Falcons have experienced hitters returning with Stevie Hughes, Kelsey Whitmore and Shelby Floyd. But with the most-seasoned players up front, finding solid backline players has been a struggle for Belton. He stressed the importance of getting the ball to the setters as the top priority with the start of the season quickly approaching.

“We’re going to be okay at the front,” Belton said. “The back concerns me, a lot. Our ball control is not very good, and that’s all we’ve been working on. Ninety-five percent of our practices are on defense and on ball control. It’s not like it’s not going to happen. It’s going to happen, but how long it’s going to take us to get there, I’m not sure.”

The surplus of hitters has Belton rethinking personnel placement. The head Falcon is looking for ways to make the rotation work in a way that keeps his best athletes evenly dispersed between the front and back rows.

The Lady Falcons have yet to find a starter for the vital libero spot.

“Obviously, if I had thatdefensive specialist, I wouldn’t be as weak on the back,” Belton said. “Right now, our front row is our best back row. You can’t have both.”

North Pulaski has solid numbers with 14 players reporting, and average 12 per practice. Belton hopes to have the entire group together next week to make a final push before the season starts in late August.

The Lady Falcons missed out on going to team camps, but Belton has brought the information from those camps to the North Pulaski campus with guest coaches from UALR and Philander Smith College. Belton also utilized other high-school programs in the area, including his wife Pamela Belton, a volleyball coach at North Little Rock.

“We’ve had a lot of experience come in to help us be better, Belton said. “And they’re saying the same thing that I see. They’re doing the same drills that we were doing, and trying to pass the ball.”

Whitmore and Hughes have shined in early practices, and provide the team with senior leadership.

“They’re great kids,” Belton said. “They’re here early, stay late, shag the balls, pick up everything. You can’t ask for two better kids, and they’re seniors at that.”

The pair was part of the resurgence for North Pulaski’s volleyball program last year, Belton’s first as head coach. Now with new assistant Greg West, Belton hopes to expand the program even more in 2011.

“The girls are excited; I’m excited about this,” Belton said. “By far, of all the sports I’ve coached here, I’m enjoying this one most. I’ll be the first to say I’m not the most knowledgeable at volleyball. But this is the most fun I’ve had coaching a sport.”