By Nathan Hutchinson
Register Sports Editor
For the first time in 15 years, the Madison Central volleyball team has a new head coach.
But, there will still be a very familiar faces on the sidelines this season for the Lady Indians.
Long-time assistant coach Marita Kinley, a former player at Eastern Kentucky University, takes over the team, becoming just the second coach in the program’s history.
“I think the girls are getting accustomed to things and they are starting to get into a routine now,” Kinley said.
The transition has been smooth because the coaching staff has basically remained intact, with the same personnel playing different roles.
Matt Stegman returns as an assistant coach and former head coach Elizabeth Morrow, who coached the team for 14 years, staying on a volunteer coach, working mostly with the freshman team.
“We have a similar philosophy,” Kinley said of taking over for Morrow. “My biggest thing is that I want the girls to come in and give me 100 percent no matter what. (Morrow and I) are both pretty defensive oriented. We are trying to build on our offensive mentality, but we think defense wins championships.”
Kinley walked on at EKU and later earned a scholarship as a libero/defensive specialist. She has worked as an assistant coach at Central for most of the past decade and also served as a graduate assistant at EKU.
Central (16-19) lost four seniors from last year’s district championship team, but has back a group of athletes who contributed to that title run.
Haleigh Morris, a junior, emerged as a high-impact performer last season. The middle hitter dominated at the net against Madison Southern in the district championship game, delivering the final kill that clinched the team’s first title since 2006.
Morris suffered an injury in the preseason and has just recently returned to practice.
Still, the coaching staff has great expectations for the junior.
“We are hoping to see some big things out of her offensively this year,” Kinley said.
Senior Demetria Young (setter) and Kiara Clayton (libero) got significant playing time last year and will likely step into starting roles this season.
A pair of sophomores were a big part of last year’s district championship — Katie Stuart (setter/hitter) and Payton Templeton (outside hitter).
“Katie is young, age-wise and experience-wise, but you couldn’t tell because she falls right into place with some of the older girls,” Kinley said. “The same thing with Payton. She’s just a sophomore, but she’s been around the game for a while and we are going to look for her to step it up.”
Kinley got an opportunity to coach the team in real-game situations earlier this summer when the Lady Indians participated in the Bluegrass State Games.
The first-year coach was pleased with squad’s play on the court and how new leaders had started to emerge.
“You get an opportunity to see what you are working with,” Kinley said of the Bluegrass State Game. “We had already been in the gym for a couple of weeks, but actually getting to play a little bit you find out where your strengths are and see where you are weak at. I think its a great experience.”
Madison Southern (14-17)
Led by a talented group of seniors, the Lady Eagles won 14 matches last season (the third-most victories in school history), finished as the district runner-up and advanced to the 11th Region Tournament.
This year, however, they will have to find a way to fill the leadership void left by those upperclassmen.
Madison Southern returns just one starter and is counting on some younger and relatively inexperienced players to step into bigger roles.
“I think we have settled in on what our starting rotation is going to be and right now we are trying to work with the pieces,” Southern coach Jeremy Grant said. “With this group of seniors and a very talented group of underclassmen, during my time here (six years), we’ve never been this deep. I feel like we can go 10, 11 or 12 people deep.”
Southern does return 10 seniors, but only one of which was a starter last season — Kenoa Gallion.
“We don’t have a ton of experience,” Grant said. “Kenoa worked her way into the starting lineup about a third of the way into the season and played really well for us.”
Several other seniors are set to jump into the starting lineup full-time, including Megan Faught.
“She’s one of our most consistent all-around players,” Grant said of the outside hitter. “She’s a hard-working kid. She’s real steady and that’s something we are going to lean on.”
Senior Jessica Watson is versatile and can play several different positions. Morgan Tincher (senior outside hitter) has shown tremendous improvement and was impressive during summer workouts.
Senior Jordan Adams has an aggressive mindset at the net and along with junior Sara Castle should set the tone in the middle for the Lady Eagles.
“Jordan Adams and Sarah Castle, they played a little bit in the middle last year and they will take over as our middle hitters,” Grant said.
A pair of sophomores will likely be in the rotation as well.
Ashley Clark was one of Southern’s top defensive substitutions last year and is set to take over at libero.
Corrissa Maupin is a big hitter and certainly has the potential to be an impact performer.
The Lady Eagles played in the Bluegrass State Games for the first time earlier this summer and that on-court experience definitely helped a young team.
“I think our team realizes that we don’t a Jackie Shepherd and we don’t have a Nikki Abney — one don’t have the one person we are going to lean on,” Grant said. “It seems like all summer everyone has stepped up their game knowing that its not going to a one-person show.”
Berea Community (6-17-1)
Amanda Thacher was a member of Berea Community’s first-ever volleyball team.
And now, eight years later, she is the head coach of the program that she helped to build at her alma mater.
Thacher and assistant coach Shelby Brooks, who also played at Berea Community, take over a squad that returns just one senior from last season.
“It’s a learning year, definitely. But, its been a lot of fun,” Thacher said. “(Me and Shelby) both really like it.”
Led by seniors Hannah Williams and Hannah Haycraft, the Lady Pirates won six games last season and almost knocked off Madison Southern in the semifinals of the 44th District Tournament.
Berea has some key players back from that squad, including senior outside hitter Nikea Banther.
“She’s a great athlete,” Thacher said of Banther. “She plays several different sports and she does cheerleading. She’s one of our co-captains. She a great all-around players. She’s a team leader.”
Junior outhitter Haley Penn and junior setter/libero Kim Rockwell also return and will serve as captains along with Banther.
“I just love her spitfire energy,” Thacher said of Penn. “(Kim) can dig up just about anything you throw at her.”
Junior setter Austin Grigsby is also back along with Haley Baker, a strong serving junior.
Sophomores Miche Desmond and Hailee Verwig will see playing time this year, along with two freshmen — Tamara Desmond and Teresa Kidwell.
Thacher has no previous volleyball coaching experience, but she is excited about taking over the program and she has high expectations.
“Obviously, we want the girls to have fun,” Thacher said. “Coach Brooks and I are competitive, so even though I don’t have a lot of background in coaching or really in the sports, just in the month or so we’ve been practicing I’ve seen so much improvement. So, we are looking to have a pretty good team. Still, it’s going to be a growing process the next couple of years.”