Tuesday, August 06, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers experienced, players learning new roles

Leader sports editor

The Lady Panther volleyball team had a busy and productive summer, but head coach DeAnna Campbell wants to squeeze in a little bit more work before the season begins on Aug. 27.

The Lady Panthers were in Bryant on Monday and Tuesday participating in their third team camp of the summer, but the first one with the whole team.

Injuries have kept two key players out of game action and the loss of two key seniors from last season has Campbell shuffling positions.

“They were the only two seniors we lost, but they were both really key players for us,” Campbell said of libero Hannah Montgomery and setter Brilee Staten. We’re moving people around to fill those roles and I almost wish we had one more team camp before the season starts to get more comfortable in these roles. Now that we finally have everyone, I’m not sure there are any left, but I’m going to try to find one for us to get just a little more game-type experience.”

Montgomery was the best passer in the league last season. Senior Becca Moffett, who didn’t play as a junior, will play the biggest role in filling that gap. But the business of filling that gap will be a team effort.

“Hannah probably passed 80 to 90 percent of our balls last year,” Campbell said. “No one is going to step in and do that right away. We’re working on that being much more of a team effort. Everyone will do that now. We’re going to have a lot players in roles they aren’t used to playing, so getting them to warm up to the idea is one of our biggest challenges.”

Two players will fill Staten’s role as setter, and both were outside hitters last year. Bailey Uhiren and Lakin Best will alternate at setter, and both will likely be full-time players.

“They’re going to set when they’re on the back row and hit when they’re on the front,” Campbell said. Lakin led us in kills last year, so it’s going to be a big change for her. But she’s just an athlete. She’s a natural volleyball player. We just have to get her some experience. She just got back from her injury and played for the first time on Monday. She’s done a great job in practice, I’d just like for her to have more game experience before the season starts.”

Senior Kaitlyn Pittman will move from the right side to the left this year and junior Haylee Callison will replace her on the right side.

Lakin played middle last year because she had to, but Callison is ready. Haylee is coming off a stress fracture in her back and she’s just getting to full strength, but she started for us last year and we’re looking for good things from her.”

Taylor Bitely is another returning starter. She played exclusively on the front row last season, but will play on the back row in 2013.

Only three juniors return after having a roster of 10 sophomores last year, but Campbell says this year’s group of sophomores is very talented, and some could push their way into the rotation this season.

“Of course all five seniors are back and have important roles, and all the juniors that are back are key players,” Campbell said. “The sophomores are very athletic and they’re gamers. I think I’m going to have a separate backup for every player this year, and that’s something I’ve not had since I started here.”

With the shuffling of players, mental mistakes have been the biggest issue of the off-season. Skill level is at its highest since Campbell took over three years ago, but the errors that come with new positions are still too frequent.

“The skill is there,” Camp-bell said. “Communication is getting better and better. Everyone is doing different jobs so the communication is changing, but we’re getting better at that. If we can overcome the simple, mental mistakes, we’ll be fine. If we can get this group to gel, get it cleaned up and looking polished, we’ll be very competitive this year.”