Friday, August 14, 2015

SPORTS STORY >> Beebe ready for another run

Leader sports editor

Excitement and expectations are high in and around the Beebe volleyball program as it prepares to begin the 2015 season, and there’s good reason for it. The Lady Badgers return starters in all six positions from last year’s 5A-Central Conference championship team. The team lost two seniors who contributed to that success, but with 20 players on this year’s roster and so many other returning contributors, there’s good reason to expect another strong run towards making it back-to-back league titles.

“It’s my fifth year and this is the biggest team we’ve had as far as number of players,” said head coach Ashley Camp. “We’re going to have some depth. We have a lot of different rotations we can go to depending on what we need or what we’re trying to do. And we have a lot of experience coming back with eight seniors.”

Running the show as setter and general floor leader is senior Sarah Clark. Clark also has one of the strongest service games on the team.

“She runs the offense very well,” Camp said of Clark. “She’s a good communicator and a good leader.”

Senior Jerra Malone led the team in kills last year as a junior. She returns as a strong left side hitter, while Gracie Rymel returns as the other big outside hitter. Rymel emerged as a key clog midway through last season. Adding to those two returning starters is senior Tori Lovelady, who has shown vast improvement as a hitter, and also a defensive specialist.

Paige Smith is the team’s libero while Destiny Nunez is a defensive specialist and adds another strong service game.

That service game has been a major focus during the summer offseason.

“That’s something we’ve worked very hard on improving,” Camp said. “We call it the game within the game. We want to try to take the other team out of the point before the ball ever gets back to the net.”

Junior Abby Smith will start at middle blocker after also becoming a major contributor as a sophomore last season. She is another player Camp believes will make an impact with her serve.

“She’s worked very hard on her jump serve and I see her stepping up and utilizing that in a way that can really help us,” Camp said.

Junior Kayla Green is another defensive specialist that adds depth to the squad, and sophomore Lani Wolfe provides another big middle blocker to join Smith.

Perhaps like no other game, volleyball requires lots of communication in the middle of the action, making team chemistry a must for success.

It’s also been a big focus in the offseason, and something the coach feels comfortable about as the season approaches.

“We’ve done some things to help team bonding and things like that,” Camp said. “They’re all very excited. Of course, they’re girls, so there are going to be little things here and there. But for the most part, these girls have been great about not bringing those things to the court.”

Last year saw Beebe win its first-ever conference championship despite starting the season as a major underdog to Pulaski Academy. The Lady Badgers lost a bitterly close match at home to the Lady Bruins early in the season, and answered that setback by winning all the rest of their conference matches, including defeating PA with relative ease on the road.

That success led to the team’s third playoff appearance, but that ended in a first-round loss to former conference rival Batesville, the four seed from the 5A-East.

The East Conference is the land of giants in 5A volleyball, and this year’s goal for the Lady Badgers is to become good enough to not only win another league title, but also compete with and defeat the state’s elite teams.

“We haven’t talked about that as a team, but it’s coming,” Camp said. “Everything so far has been about skill, skill, skill. But they’ve made comments about it. They know what level they need to be, and they’ll say things like, ‘we’re ready.’ They can see their improvement and they’re excited about the season.”