Tuesday, August 13, 2013

SPORTS STORY>>NP ladies youthful this year

Leader sports editor

The North Pulaski volleyball team will be relying heavily on youth for the upcoming 2013 season. The Lady Falcons have only two seniors and a lot of sophomores, but one of those seniors will be a huge key to NP’s success.

Emily Long will be a three-year starter and one of the most experienced players in North Pulaski’s 5A-Central Conference. North Pulaski coach Ben Belton went beyond comparing her to his conference, and heaped high praise on his setter.

“In my opinion, she’s the best setter in the state,” Belton said. “We haven’t played together much this summer, but she did and she came back as good as she’s always been and probably a little better. We have a young team. Emily is our setter and that’s the only given right now. We’re going to have to come together around her and just play.”

Casey Mullen is the other senior and a returning starter, though she missed some of last year with an injury. The Lady Falcons will also rely heavily on Mullen as one of three full-rotation players. Sophomore Raigen Thomas is the third.

“Casey and Raigen both will have to serve receive and that’s something we’re struggling with right now,” Belton said. “It’s something that I think is getting better the more we play together, but it’s got to get a lot better if we want to compete and make it back to state. I think, with Casey’s experience, she’s going to start bringing some of that consistency we need when we get more practice time in.”

Thomas’ role will be predominantly as a hitter, but her versatility makes her valuable even on the back row.

“She’s not very tall but she’s got a chance to be one of the best outside hitters we’ve ever had here,” Belton said. “She’s just an athlete. She strong and she can jump. We’ve got to work on our timing but she’s got a lot of potential.”

Sophomore Kierra Evans brings height to the middle and fills out the early starting rotation. The other two starting rotation position is still open, according to the head Falcon.

“We’re looking for that player or those players who are going to step up and show the consistency we need,” Belton said. “We’ve been to two camps and we’re still making some pretty big mistakes, like serving errors. At this level, serving in volleyball should be like shooting free throws in basketball. You just ought to be able to do it, but we’re not right now. So we’ve got them on a serving regimen where they have to serve so many every day and we chart them.”

The Lady Falcons went to a team camp at UCA in late July and went to another camp at Vilonia last week. Belton says play improved through both camps.

“At UCA we looked really rusty,” Belton said. “You could tell it was our first time out all summer. At Vilonia we got better every day. On the last day we played the best we’ve played so far. We had Vilonia beat for second place in our little pool, but we just didn’t get it done.”

The Lady Falcons lost to the host team 25-23 and 25-22.

“If we can just continue to get better from that match, we could possibly finish way up in the conference,” Belton said. “But right now, with the service errors and the mistakes we make serve receiving, we’re not going to qualify unless we improve, and that’s just going to take a commitment to getting better.”