Russell ended a four-year Raceland run in the 63rd District last year, knocking off the Lady Rams in the final, 3-1 (24-26, 25-13, 25-12, 25-17), after claiming victory over Lewis County in the semifinals.
Raceland and Lewis County will both be entering the season with new coaches, while Greenup County and Russell return coaches, but need to find replacements for several key players.
Here’s a brief look at each team from the 63rd District:
The Lady Lions will enter the 2018 season with their fourth head coach in the last four years.
Whitney Willis has taken over the helm, after Sarah Callihan led Lewis County to a 9-16 record in one season. Willis coached the middle school team this spring.
“I really enjoyed that and when it came around to the high school season and they needed a coach, I thought we could do a lot of great things,” said Willis. “We have a lot of talent, they just need someone that’s consistent – there’s been a lot of coach turnover the last few years – someone consistent in middle and high school. They have the potential to go somewhere, so I took over and I’m excited about the girls this year.”
Willis is a Montgomery County graduate and has been teaching at Lewis County for the last two years. She didn’t play volleyball in school, but played tennis and has noticed some similarities between the sports. She’s also made a point to try to bring in experienced volleyball minds to help the transition to a new head coach.
Lewis County will be without several key players from last year’s team after graduating a senior class that included Maddie Spencer, Abby Pick, Allison Voyles, Madison Prater, Leisha McNamara and Harley Flinders.
The Lady Lions did feature 10 juniors on their roster last year, as well as three sophomores and one freshman. Willis said they’ve had about eight seniors out this fall, including a few that she expects to stand out and help fill the shoes of the departing players.
Haylee Ginn returns at libero and Lexie Sizemore returns as the Lady Lions’ setter. Lewis County lost several of their big hitters from last year’s squad, but Willis expects Abby Applegate to help step in and fill that role.
Lewis County’s 2017 season came to a close against 63rd District champion Russell, 3-1 (25-11, 25-10, 20-25, 25-11). The Lady Lions have faced the Lady Devils in the 63rd District semifinals each year since, 2010 – the first year they joined it. They also met the year before in the 59th District semifinals. The only time Lewis County beat Russell in the postseason during that stretch was in 2016 under coach Jessica Williams.
The Lady Lions finished 13-9 that season, after a 24-11 season with Nellie Book. Book was the coach for six seasons from 2010-2015.
Lewis County got a taste of 16th Region action at Spike O’Rama in Ashland this past weekend, including matches within the district. Willis says her team held their own and their serving ability stood out early in the season.
“I did notice at Spike O’Rama that our team excelled in serving. We had probably four or five that are serving with speed and accuracy,” said Willis. “Across the board we have strong servers.”
With another new coach this season, Lewis County will be aiming to get back to the 16th Region Tournament after a one-year absence.
“I’m really excited. I think we have a chance this year,” said Willis. “Hopefully it pans out for us.”
The Lady Devils were back on top of the 63rd District for the first time since 2011 last year, and made it all the way to the 16th Region championship game before they saw their season come to a close.
They’ll be without setter McKenzie Cole, libero Kayla Preston, outside hitter Hannah Saunders and middle hitter Emily Robinson this year, after all played a role in last year’s success for Russell, who finished with a 20-15 record.
Russell returns several key players this season, including middle hitter Kate Ruggles, middle hitter Rachel Saunders, outside hitter Grace Satterwhite and setter Sadie Hill.
“Our chemistry on and off the court has appeared to work in our favor. Any time one of our players is off, it affects the whole team. What I’m trying to say, is our girls really support and push one another to be the best they can be,” said Russell coach Tiffany Perry in an email to The Ledger Independent. “I’ve never seen another team love each other as much as my team does. It also helps that we have tremendous talent, individually.”
The Lady Devils went 3-3 in regular season 63rd District play last fall, before rattling off 3-1 victories over Lewis County and Raceland, who had won four straight 16th Region titles. Russell was the regional champion the year before that, and Perry believes the matches they play within their district could help them get back to the top in the 16th.
“It’s always good to play and grow with each match. We really do enjoy playing within our district, because it has proved to be challenging at times, but also enjoyable. Our district has been tough in recent history, so we always look forward to those games,” said Perry.
“Our goal is to win games and grow as a team,” added Perry. “Right now we are sticking to the short term goals, but the girls would love to win Region and Districts again, and of course I believe we have a shot at that.”
The Lady Musketeers went 4-19 last season, but showed the capability to beat anybody, proven with a straight-set victory over Russell late in September.
Now, they’ll be tasked with replacing an eight-member senior class from that team.
Greenup County claimed the 63rd District in 2012, but hasn’t won a game in the district tournament since then. They’ve been paired with Raceland in the semifinals each year since 2012 and have been unable to knock them off.
The team has not filed a roster with the KHSAA and Greenup County coach Darrell Adkins did not respond to an email requesting information on the team.
The Lady Rams are aiming to get back on top in the 63rd District and 16th Region after ending a four-year run last season.
During the stretch from 2013-2016, Raceland went 121-18. They’ve had 12 straight winning seasons, which included an 18-17 record last year in a rebuilding season.
Raceland will try to continue rebuilding with a similar cast as last fall. They graduated just two seniors – Kaylee Bates and Michelle Vanderhoof – from the 2017 team. It was a roster with just three juniors on it too, so the Lady Rams will still be young this season.
They’ll also have a new head coach after three seasons with Sarah Linn at the helm. Ryan Biederman, a Russell graduate, takes over this season after previously serving as an assistant cross country coach. In an email to The Ledger Independent, Biederman said the key to success it to “inspire players to develop character as individuals and be the example of an exceptional student athletes as they represent their peers and Raceland-Worthington Community. Work hard, play hard, and have fun.”
The Lady Rams are scheduled to open the season against Pikeville on Aug. 6 at 7 p.m.