The Lady Eagles soared to new heights during the 2019 season.
They won a school-record 28 matches and claimed the program’s first district title since 2006.
Madison Southern also advanced past the first round of the 11th Region Tournament for the first time.
It was a historic season.
Many of the key performers from that team, though, are gone.
Southern’s five seniors — three of which signed to play the sport in college — were the emotional leaders of the team.
“You can’t replace them,” Southern coach Jeremy Grant said of Kennedy Easterling, Sarah Mitchell, Alyssa Evans, Hannah Martin and Hailey Martin. “It’s a totally new team and a totally new identity.”
The Lady Eagles will certainly look much different.
They still return a core of experience players who are eager to prove themselves and to also help Madison Southern claim another district title.
“I have been really impressed with how they have stepped up and filled a lot of those roles,” Grant said. “Everyone else has taken their cue (from returners).”
Southern brings back four players – Avery St. John, Kyla Atkins, Julia Bingham and Autumn Griffith — who have seen lots of varsity action during their high school careers.
And that group has instinctively emerged as leaders.
“The four of them have taken it upon themselves to say, ‘Hey. This is our team now,’” Grant said.
St. John has started each of the past two seasons at outside hitter. She will become an even bigger focus of the offense without Mitchell and Hannah Martin on the front row.
“This year, she has looked like a different player,” Grant said of St. John. “She’s hitting the ball really well. She’s got a swagger about her. She’s stepped into that senior leadership role.”
Atkins, a junior, was a setter last season, but has been moved to outside hitter this season.
Bingham is only a sophomore but has been in the line-up for two seasons already.
“She’s been on varsity since she was in the eighth grade,” Grant said of the middle blocker. “She played a lot last year. She’s got a ton of experience. She doesn’t act like a sophomore.”
Griffith, a senior, returns to anchor the back row.
“She’s just a scrapper,” Grant said of Griffith.
The Lady Eagles added some height at the net with the addition of a pair of junior basketball players — Reece Esteep (6-foot) and Macie Daniels (5-foot-11).
Southern has a pair of options at setter. Junior Kara Combs and sophomore Reagan Burns have both had good summers and could share time at that position.
“We are going to put them through the gauntlet this week and see who comes out,” Grant said of the setters.
Southern returns a group of defensive specialists who did get some time last season — senior Emily Young, junior Ally Skidmore, sophomore Breanna Dawes and junior Kennedy Johnson.
Seniors Emma Haselwood and Chloe Osborne will also see action up front for a team that has some good depth.
“We are going to be running a lot of people in there. We are probably going to play 10 or 11 every night,” Grant said.
Southern is set to open the season next Tuesday at home against Scott County.
Madison Central (7-28)
Elizabeth Morrow helped start the volleyball program at Madison Central.
After a dozen seasons as the head coach, she stepped away in 2012.
She never really left, though.
Morrow stayed on as an assistant coach for a few seasons and helped the team in many other ways, including keeping team statistics, working the scoreboard and helping year-round with camps and fundraising.
“I didn’t really go away,” Morrow said with a laugh.
Now, she’s back again.
Morrow returned to the head coaching position earlier this year after Martia Kinley was elevated to an administrative position — Dean of Students.
The former coach says the transition back into her former role has been very easy.
“It hasn’t been difficult at all. I still helped with our kids skill camps. I worked with the younger one, the elementary-aged ones,” Morrow said. “It’s been for the kids, especially for our two seniors.”
Central returns just those two upperclassmen from a team that won just seven matches last season.
The Lady Indians were beaten in the championship game of the 44th District Tournament in 2019 by Madison Southern, ending a run of seven-straight titles.
Central brings back a core of experienced talent and have added some players who should give them a chance to challenge for the championship, again.
“We are still young,” Morrow said. “We’ve got a lot of kids back, though. I expect to see good things from Mary Carol Adams and Macalia Morin along with Sophie Hiles. We’ve got a lot talented players.”
Sicilia Friend (libero) and Haven Combs (middle/outside hitter) were both starters last season and the seniors have taken on the role of leaders in the offseason.
“First of all, I’m glad our seniors get to have a season,” Morrow said. “And second, it has been an honor to watch these two young ladies progress over the years.”
The Lady Indians will have some offensive firepower at the net.
Addison Martin (sophomore) is back, along with Avery Rigney (freshman) and junior Sophie Hiles. Freshman Ananiah Huguely could be a force in the middle and sophomore Libby McMahan should challenge for playing time.
“We’ve got some hitters this year,” Morrow said.
Central will switch to a 6-2 offensive set this season, which means the use of multiple setters. The Lady Indians have options at that position, including Kiersten Osborne (sophomore), Riley Campbell (sophomore) and Ella Cornett (junior) along with others.
Juniors Morin and Adams are expected to anchor the back row along with Friend.
The delayed start to the season has limited practice time, but Morrow says the players are just happy to be back on the court.
“It’s game on right now,” Morrow said. “We are trying to squeeze a month into two weeks, just like everyone else.”
Morrow is back, but Kinley isn’t gone either.
The only other head coach in the history of the program will also continue to help out in a variety of roles.
“We’ve been together too long,” Morrow said with a laugh.
Central is set to open the season next Tuesday at home against Clark County.
Berea Community (17-17)
The Lady Pirates weren’t able to upset long-time rival Madison Central in the opening round of the 44th District Tournament last season.
They did win a set, though.
That’s something they have not been able to do in a long time.
“Winning that set really boosted their confidence,” Berea Community co-coach Jarred Penn said. “It showed them that they can do it. We are hoping to surprise a few people again this year.”
Berea Community’s program has taken big steps forward recently.
The Lady Pirates have more wins in the past two seasons (36) than they had in the previous five seasons (35 — 2013 to 2017) combined.
Now, they want to keep pushing forward.
“They were still very excited when we started back up in June,” Penn said.
Berea lost just one senior to graduation and has only two upperclassmen on this year’s roster.
Taelor Alexander returns at libero. The senior has emerged as a leader during offseason workouts.
“She’s stepped her game up already,” Penn said of Alexander.
Berea’s other senior — Serenity Short — has also stepped up.
“She has improved so much over the summer by just doing the drills,” Penn said of the defensive specialist.
Morgan Short, a sophomore, returns at setter, while the hard-serving Kayley Harrison (sophomore) is back on the front row at outside hitter.
Berea had several players take part in club programs during the offseason, including junior Morgan Short.
“She’s learned a few new tricks,” Penn said of Short.
Junior Sophia Dobbins played up on a U16 team. The outside hitter has developed into a big-time threat at the net.
The Lady Pirates also return two other players who saw action on the back row last year — juniors Chance Lovins and Peyton Azbill.
“Hopefully, that will be a our strong suit this season,” Penn said of the defensive specialists.
Berea is set to open the season next Tuesday at home against Garrard County.
Anthony Mayer knew he would have to build from the ground up when he was named Model Laboratory’s first-ever volleyball coach.
The school’s inaugural team had only three players with any organized experience with the sport.
“It was starting from scratch,” Mayer said.
The inexperienced Lady Patriots didn’t have a lot of success on the court in 2019.
Model was 0-18 and won only two sets — one against Burgin and the other against Frankfort.
Despite the difficulties, Mayer enjoyed the process and is very optimistic about the program moving forward.
“I love coaching the basics, the fundamentals,” Mayer said. “I love teaching the game. I had a blast.”
Model lost only two seniors from last season and brings back a group that got plenty of time on the court.
The Lady Patriots have eight juniors and just one senior — Haley Hollis, a transfer from Central — on the roster.
Liz Dickerson, Rachel McClung, Taylor Lecompte, Leah Smith, Marie Whitehouse and Windi Williams were all in the rotation last season, along with freshman Violet Fox.
“That’s the core of our team,” Mayer said of the group of juniors.
The Lady Patriots added some players to the roster this year as well.
The program continues to grow and Mayer expects the team to show signs of improvement this season.
“Hopefully, we can just build on where we left off,” the coach said. “They work hard. They want to win, bad.”
Model is set to open the season next Tuesday at home against Danville.