1009-ECHS at Holt VB 3

Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Elmore County’s Chloe Andress passes the ball.

With tryouts finally in the books, Elmore County has set its roster for its first-ever volleyball season in Class 5A and the Panthers were ready to get things started when they hit the court Monday for the first official practice of the season.

“It’s going to be very exciting and we’re going to get a lot of work done,” ECHS coach Kim Moncrief said. “These girls have a very competitive spirit in them. They didn’t get to do anything from March to June and that’s a long time to not be competitive. They’ve been focused and even as far behind as we may be, they are even more energized.”

Elmore County’s volleyball program is no stranger to success as the Panthers are carrying their 10-year area title streak into a new classification. Despite everything else going on in the world, Moncrief said the team has not lost its focus on the new challenges that await it this season.

“We’re still well aware that we are going to be pushing against 5A competition,” Moncrief said. “It’s important for us to be even more focused. The unknown is out there so we have to see how we’re going to match up. I told them we closed the book on that streak in 4A. We’re going to have to prove ourselves and make a new one.”

The Panthers lost a few key players from last season including libero Brianna Baker and kill leader Mirriam Foster but the team still returns several pieces that provided plenty of production during last year’s area championship run.

Kelley Green played a big role in the team’s offense last season and is expected to move into a more attacking role as a senior. She finished second on the team with 253 kills last season but she also provided 207 assists, showing off a wide variety of skills.

“Kelley Green is a good outside hitter and she is really versatile,” Moncrief said. “She’s more relaxed this year and she’s taken on a bigger leadership role now. That’s going to be really helpful. She knows the players around her and that’s a big plus.”

Katie Pollard also returns and will see some time as the outside hitter and may join Green on the front row in the starting rotation.

“They are very similar players,” Moncrief said. “They both read the ball very well and can adjust well. That’s what we look for, someone who doesn’t have to have a perfect set to hit it.”

Emily Jones will also be used in attack as a right side hitter and Moncrief said she has seen vast improvements from Jones in the last year. Emma Brown, Lizzie Brown, Natalie Sullivan and Coranda Lozada will also see some time on the front row.

Chloe Andress returns as the team’s top setter after recording 315 assists last season. She will be helped by Madalyn Ferpes and Aubrey Beasley. 

“I have a lot of confidence in our setters this year and Chloe has had the most experience in that spot,” Moncrief said. “She understands what we’re trying to do and she communicates really well. I think she has really stepped into a leadership role this summer and I’m fully confident in what she is able to do.”

Madison Britt will be returning and could take on a starting role in the middle after recording 115 kills and 26 blocks last season but a minor injury could hold her out at the start of the season. Seanna O’Daniel will also be called upon to fill the vacant starting role in the middle with some reserve help from Kelly Rush.

After losing the team’s dig leader and libero from last season, the Panthers are still working to find a new player to take over that role full-time but Moncrief said she does have options. CJ Thornton, Emma Brown and Bailey Butler are all expected to see plenty of time along the back line as defensive specialists.

“It is quite tough to fill a defensive position,” Moncrief said. “To me, that’s one of the most key positions on the court. When game time gets here, it’s about who can make the play and who can get the ball to our setters. Because if we can’t do that, we can’t get our offense going.”

Elmore County will start its season on the road against Horseshoe Bend on Aug. 24.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.