Tuesday, August 20, 2013

SPORTS STORY >> Lady Panthers show energy

Leader sports editor

As preseason practices continue, the Cabot volleyball team continues to build confidence. The team has six seniors, many of whom have started or been regular players in all three years of DeAnna Campbell’s time as head coach.

This week is the first of after-school practice, and things took a while to get going for the Lady Panthers. After the team divided into varsity versus junior varsity, competitiveness kicked in and action picked up.

After being involved in four-straight successful blocks, senior Taylor Bitely began to lead the energy rise among the team.

“I get really excited about blocks,” said Bitely. “Just that feeling of shutting the other team down, it’s really fun.”

Bitely indicates the team will be more vocal on the court this year, and not just communicating during points, something which the team has lacked, but in emotional expression.

“In the past we’ve been much less vocal on the court than I think we’ll be this year,” Bitely said. “Having so many seniors, we understand that we all have the leadership role.”

Cabot had just three seniors last year with two starting, and all three were understated players. A changing of the guard took place in the regular-season finale against Lake Hamilton last season. The Lady Panthers sent the three seniors out with a minor upset victory, and for the first time showed the kind of on-court energy and vocalization that is likely to be a staple of this year’s team.

“There’s probably a pretty easy explanation for that,” said Campbell. “That’s really my style. I encourage that. These seniors were my first group and I started four of them as sophomores. They know what I want, plus they have that personality. I teased my seniors last year because they were so quiet. I’d tell them they should be librarians. But this group wants to get loud and they will be. Taylor can be downright obnoxious on the court and I like that.”

While a big senior class with lots of shared playing time can lead to better leadership, the Lady Panthers also expect all the shared experience to lead to more success.

“We’re a much older team,” Bitely said. “We’re finally a team of seniors and juniors instead of really sophomore heavy. We’re finally one of those teams like Conway that has all those girls that have played together for so long. We haven’t been together since 10- or 11-years old like some of them, but we’ve all been playing together for three full years now, so I think we’ll definitely get more wins.”

The earliest evidence of Cabot’s improvement came in the first team camp that took place in late July in Fayetteville. Cabot didn’t win the camp final, but did win its four-team division, a first for this group.

“Winning the division in Fayetteville was a big step,” Bitely said. “We’ve played in a lot of camps and never done that. It just showed us that we’re playing to a better standard and we expect to play at a higher level this year.”

The Lady Panthers get their first chance to showcase themselves on Thursday when they travel to Conway for a benefit jamboree. The varsity squad will play one set each against Sheridan and North Little Rock. The junior varsity will square off against Vilonia’s JV.

The regular season opens at home next Tuesday with a tri-match that includes Lonoke and Jacksonville.