Tuesday, August 07, 2012

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot ladies much improved

Leader sports editor

If experience is important to success in athletics, Cabot’s volleyball team should be much better this season than the 1-13 conference record it put together last year. The Lady Panthers lost just one starting senior from last year’s squad, which was dominated by inexperienced sophomores who were starting their high school careers under a brand new head coach. This year the starting lineup will be dominated by juniors and all of them have a year of work under Deanne Campbell, who assembled quite a busy off-season schedule.

“We’re definitely much farther along right now than we were at this time last season,” Campbell said. “Taking the job six weeks before the season started didn’t really give us much time to prepare. And on top of that we were going to have so many sophomores playing, it was just a tough adjustment for everyone.

“This year we did conditioning every day. We did speed drills and jumping drills and really worked on improving those things that make you better a volleyball team. Plus we’re in better shape. We’ll have more energy at the end of matches than we did last season.”

The 2012 Lady Panthers have 20 players on the roster, including 11 sophomores, but only two figure heavily into the main varsity rotation.

Senior Briley Staten returns as the starting setter. She missed the last third of the season with a severe ankle injury. When she rotates to the front row, she’ll be replaced by sophomore Haylee Callison. Junior Lakin Best was an outside hitter last season, but will get more work in the middle this year. Junior Taylor Bitely is the other starter in the middle. The key outside hitters this year will be senior Samantha Mantione and junior Kaitlyn Pitman. Senior Evye Pifer is a defensive specialist who will stay on the back row and senior Hannah Montgomery will handle the team’s libero.

“Hannah has improved so much it’s incredible,” Campbell said of her libero. “She’s playing some of the best back row I’ve seen.”

The Lady Panthers were supposed to be in team camp this week at Hendrix University in Conway, but the camp was canceled with just a week’s notice.

They competed in a camp at the University of Arkansas last week and performed well enough to draw some praises from the second-year coach.

“We did really well,” Campbell said. “Our first two days I felt like you could really see the improvement. Last year we only had one true hitter in every rotation. This year I think we’re going to have two or three. And we’re doing better at not just putting the ball down, but putting it down strategically. Approaching it with an idea of where we want the ball to go.”

One key to team success is the belief it can win. After a 1-13 conference campaign last year, that’s a hurdle that Campbell knows she can’t coach her team over.

“They have to make up their minds that they can win,” Campbell said. “I see the improvement. It’s clear to me they’re all so much better volleyball players than they were a year ago. But they have to make up their minds that they’re good enough to beat these teams we’ve been playing.

“We were competitive in most all of our games last year. And one of the reasons I think we lost so many of them was lack of experience and lack of conditioning. We were terribly inconsistent at the end of matches and I think conditioning had a lot to do with that. This year we’re much more experienced and in much better shape. So hopefully we’ll have more success.”

The Lady Panthers first competition is at the Conway High School jamboree on Thursday, Aug. 16.

Their first official matches of the season will be at home on Aug. 21 in a multi-match setting with Russellville, Morrilton, Batesville and Heber Springs.