As the 2018 volleyball regular season is set to begin on Monday, three teams in the 39th District will be chasing Bracken County as the Lady Bears look for their fourth straight district title.
Augusta, Mason County and St. Patrick will look to end the Lady Bears streak, here’s a look at each team as we approach season’s start:
BRACKEN COUNTY (2017 Record: 10-24)
Staring off with the three-time champs, Bracken lost just two seniors from last year’s team as the ’18 team guns for a four-peat. The Lady Bears struggled during the 2017 regular season, losing 12 of their final 13 regular season contests before turning it on in the district tourney, knocking off Augusta and then Mason County in the championship. They’d lose in the first round of the 10th Region tournament to Montgomery County to finish the year at 10-24.
With another year of Aryah Myrick racking up kills and blocks, Natalie Bell and Madison Goecke’s experience and the back line play of Taylor Linville, the Lady Bears will once again be the team to beat in the 39th.
“We want to be able to compete for the district title. That has to be a goal going in,” Lady Bears coach Wade Smith said. “We hope we are lucky enough to get a chance to play in that game. This year there will be four teams capable of achieving that goal, so it won’t be easy.”
Myrick will be a force along the front line, primarily as a middle hitter.
“She will be looked upon to carry the offensive load a lot this year. She is also a good passer and server,” Smith said.
Bell and Goecke provide senior leadership. The two are four-year players in the program and know what it takes to come out on top come postseason time.
“Natalie leads by example and has really worked hard this offseason. Look for great things from her passing and hitting spots this year,” Smith said. “Madison has been our featured setter and is a vocal leader. She has really good sets and instincts. When she gets her feet set, she is one of the better setters we’ve had around here in years.”
Linville will be key along the back line and in the service game. Smith knows with her back there, they’re in good hands.
“She gets overlooked a lot and taken for granted because she is going to be where she needs to be and makes the plays that need to be made without asking,” Smith said.
After three games to start the season with St. Patrick, Grant County and Nicholas County, the Lady Bears will start to get into the meat of their schedule starting out with the 10th Region All “A” Classic against Calvary Christian. Following that, they’ll be hosting their own tournament, The Glacier Invitational on August 25.
“We always enjoy our tourney because it’s early in the season and helps us set the tone for the year and gets us going in the right direction,” Smith said. “We would like to be in the finals of all tournaments that we are in. People love getting those trophies, but if you make it to the finals anything can happen. That’s where everyone wants to be so you have to play and practice well enough to earn that spot.”
Another district matchup with St. Patrick on September 6 and Mason County on September 11 should give them a solid gauge on where they stand in district play. Matchups against 10th region power Scott and a couple of matches with Bourbon County should have the Lady Bears tested prior to the Fillie Fall Fling at Harrison County in the end of September, an end of regular season tourney always filled with tough teams.
That leads into the 39th District Tournament the week of October 8, set to take place at the Mason County Fieldhouse this year.
MASON COUNTY (2017 Record: 14-19)
The Lady Royals will be under new direction with Shelby Hesler the new head coach, replacing Zach Thomas, who coached the team the last two years.
Hesler was part of the Lady Royals program when it was just beginning as Hesler and assistant coach Kortney Mills started up the program with just 10 players. The program is in much better shape these days with roughly 30 players spread out among the Varsity, JV and freshman teams.
“To see the growth from when we started is special to us,” the two said in a phone interview. “The opportunity to come back and help is incredible.”
Now the two hope to get the Lady Royals back to the top of the district, claiming the program’s only district title in 2014.
The Lady Royals are coming off a 14-19 season and will have to replace three seniors in Tessa Gray, Grace Rose Blackwell and Riley Horch. After starting the ’17 season 5-14, the Lady Royals finished strong, going 9-5 over their final 14 contests. They were runner-up to Bracken County in the 39th District Championship and bowed out to Harrison County in the first round of the 10th Region tournament.
Leading the returning players cast will be Alyssa Cracraft, Emily Huber, Meya Myrick and Lexi Cooper. All four got extended playing time last season and look to lead a charge of knocking off Bracken County, a team that’s had their number since 2014, Bracken winning eight of ten matchups since.
“We’re very interested to play them. Their coach now (Wade Smith) was there when we played, so we look forward to battling with them,” Hesler and Mills said.
Grace Huber, Kamryn Fryman, Kiersten Coleman, Erin Hasler and Sarah Bravard will help round out the rotation for the Lady Royals, who plan to go deeper with their substitutions than last year.
“We have a tall team and are fortunate for that. We plan to use all our subs and these girls definitely know the game. Our older girls are experienced and have done a great job with teaching the younger girls the fundamentals of the game,” Hesler and Mills said.
The Lady Royals will play three in-season tournaments this year at Fleming County, Bracken County and Montgomery County. The Montgomery County tournament, known as the Dink Scott Memorial Tournament will provide a ton of tough competition.
“It’s good for us because we’ll be playing a lot of random teams and will be a good gauge to see where we are. It’s good to play a variety of teams,” Hesler and Mills said.
Mason County will start their season later than most teams, beginning with play on August 15 against Fleming County.
SAINT PATRICK (2017 Record: 14-19)
The Lady Saints return everyone but Alexis Luther to the fold in 2018. St. Patrick won 14 games last year, their most since winning 16 in 2010.
With nearly everyone back and some solid reinforcements that have claimed back-to-back titles at the middle school level, a lot of optimism has been created for the Lady Saints, including from coach Chuck Hamilton, his fifth season with the team.
“This is probably the most optimistic I’ve been going into a season. We’ve got some really good young players coming up, 11 of our 12 players have seen varsity action,” Hamilton said. “It’s a good situation for us. I’m happy with how practice has gone so far and we seem ready to go.”
On top of experience returning, Hamilton has assistant coach Presley Marshall on hand to help with conditioning of the team.
“He’s coming to our practices and doing conditioning work. We’ll be in great shape. At first the girls were hesitant with it, but once they got into it you can see the difference,” Hamilton said.
The more experienced players like Lizzie McKay, Hannah Mason, Justina Klee, Elizabeth Hubbard and Jaclyn Stewart, the Lady Saints are aiming to do something they’ve never done as a program…win a district title. They’ve come close four times with runner-up finishes in the program’s 16 years of existence, but have never hoisted the big one.
“That’s the goal. We feel the district is wide open. Bracken County will still be the team to beat, but we gave them a heck of a match last year in the All “A”. We showed we can play with anyone in the district,” Hamilton said.
The Lady Saints will know right away where they stand in district play as they open up with Bracken County to start the season on August 7.
Mixing in the youth on the team will be something Hamilton will have to work with. It’s a good problem to have as the fifth-year coach believes a lot of the team is on a level playing field in terms of skill set. The one thing Hamilton really likes about the youth is their demeanor every time they walk onto the playing floor.
“The last two middle school teams were undefeated. These young girls want to win and have been winning,” Hamilton said. “Its been a pleasure at practice early on.”
In order to be successful in ’18, Hamilton said they need to key in on three things: Cut down on errors, return serves and maintain focus throughout a match. If they can do that, he feels it will lead to a winning season.
Among the younger girls who have improved their play according to Hamilton are Caroline McKay, Faith Comer, Reese Burton, Katie Hord, Mercedes Hedgecock, Makenna Roush and Scarlette Cardenas. Look for them to mesh in with some of the more experienced players to make a formidable squad in ’18.
The Lady Saints were given a tough draw for the 10th Region All “A” Classic, as they’ll face Bishop Brossart in the opening round on August 20. Plenty of district matchups that include Bracken County twice, Augusta three times and Mason County twice will give them a good gauge of where they stand come district tourney play the week of October 8.
AUGUSTA (2017 Record: 9-17)
The Lady Panthers are coming off a 9-17 season and a first round exit in the district tournament to Bracken County.
They’ll have to overcome the loss of four seniors in Maddie Whiteman, MaKaya Parsons, Brooklyn Kirk and Violet Hiles. They do return a lot of rotational players, most notably juniors Madison Kelsch, Alexis Shields, Karley Browning and Michaela Ramey to go with freshman Olivia Caudill, who were all on the 10th Region Preseason Players to Watch List.
Kelsch is a defensive specialist, Remley is a middle blocker, Shields is an outside hitter, Browning is an outside hitter and Caudill is a middle blocker. Those five paired with seven other returnees according to last year’s KHSAA roster should have the Lady Panthers much improved from the nine-win campaign in ’17.
Augusta will open the season on August 13 against Robertson County. After a couple more matches comes the 10th Region All “A” tournament a week later as they face Silver Grove in the first round. Although they won’t have the chance to face county rival Bracken County in the regular season, they’ll face district foe St. Patrick three times and Mason County twice.
Coach Roy Machen will be entering his eighth season with the team.