Friday, August 15, 2014

SPORTS STORY >> Cabot young but talented

Leader sports editor

A lot of new names dot the roster for the Cabot volleyball team, but they’d all be new to first-year coach Kham Chanthaphasouk anyway. In the first year of the three-year stint of former coach DeAnna Campbell, she started several sophomores and had the same core group all three years. That group graduated last season after showing steady progress all three years, now a new group with a new coach get to show how strong was the foundation laid by the previous group.

Early signs are good. The Lady Panthers have performed well at two team camps this month. They went 4-2 at the most recent camp at Benton High School, losing only to the camp host and Conway. At Arkansas State University, the Lady Panthers faced two defending state champions, beating 6A champ Jonesboro and losing to 4A champion Valley View, but competing well.

“I’ve been pretty pleased with our competitiveness at the camps,” Chanthaphasouk said. “We’ve gone up against some of the toughest competition available and we’ve competed really well and even had some success. We’re still a fairly young team and there’s a lot of room for improvement. That’s even more exciting.”

Though the team’s first match is only five days away, the new coach isn’t ready to name a starting lineup just yet. That first match is not an official one. It’s a benefit game at Conway, and the head Panther believes it will be a good measuring stick for his team’s progress.

“We played Conway at Benton and we lost to them,” Chanthaphasouk said. “That was two weeks ago, so it will have been almost three weeks by the time we play them, and I think it will be a good indicator of how we’ve come along since then.”

Though Chanthaphasouk won’t name a starting lineup, he is willing to name a few who will probably be in on the floor for the first serve.

“I’ve only got three seniors and they’re the only ones I can say for sure will be starters,” Chanthaphasouk said.

They’re also the only players that saw much of any varsity action last season. They are front-row players Haylee Callison and Kaitlyn Joyner, and back-row defensive specialist Tristen Roche.

Though only six can start, the head coach said it won’t be unusual to see 10 to 12 players in any given match.

“This team has good depth,” Chanthaphasouk said. “I plan to specialize a lot of girls. For example, if you’re not a good server, you won’t serve even if you’re a back row player. I want to utilize and maximize everyone’s strengths.”

Playing alongside those three seniors on the varsity squad will be six juniors and three sophomores. The juniors include outside hitters Kristen Walker and Tori Barnhill, defensive specialist Hayley Henry, setter Lauren Calhoun, DS and setter Haden Majors and West Virginia transfer Abbie Lippincott.

The sophomores are outside hitters Taylor Bell and Regan Campbell, and middle blocker Maddie Brown, who is already garnering lots of college attention.

“I feel comfortable saying those 12 will be the varsity squad to start the season,” Chanthaphasouk said. “We have 11 sophomores and I think we’re going to have a pretty talented junior varsity team, too. So it’s an exciting time here.

“I really want people to come out and check us out. It’s going to be a very competitive, exciting level of volleyball. A lot of times people think of volleyball, they think of church volleyball with people standing around like that. That’s not what’s going on here. It’s going to be an exciting season. If they’ll come watch us once, they’ll want to come back.”