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Caleb Turrentine / The Herald Wetumpka’s Ryleigh Hamm (16) pushes the ball over the net.

With just one senior on the roster, it did not come as a surprise when the Wetumpka volleyball team started the season 3-12. Fortunately for Wetumpka, that senior was Ryleigh Hamm and she helped lead the Indians out of the depths to within one win of the Class 6A state tournament in Hoover.

“I think the biggest thing was the maturity that she showed,” Wetumpka coach DeAnna Smith said. “She really grew as a player. I think she felt a lot of responsibility being the senior on this team and she rose to the occasion.”

Wetumpka finished the season with its third consecutive area tournament title and recorded 15 wins, its most during Hamm’s career at the varsity level. The season came to an end at the hands of Northridge in the quarterfinals of the South Super Regional but that did not take away from the team’s success or the individual success for Hamm this season.

“It was sad when it ended but I felt like it was a very good close for me,” Hamm said. “I wanted this season to be the best it could be so I worked as hard as I could and encouraged the other girls to keep getting better.”

Hamm was everywhere on the court for the Indians but as expected, she did most of her damage in the attack. She was always the go-to player for Wetumpka’s offense and she finished with 281 kills while adding 58 aces from the service line. Hamm is the 2019 Elmore County Volleyball Player of the Year.

“The whole team was always encouraging,” Smith said. “This was a great group and no one ever got jealous about where the ball was going. When one player was doing well, the team was doing well and they understood that.”

As the season moved on, opponents began to realize how much of Wetumpka’s success ran through Hamm and they focused on getting blocks up against her. Hamm had to make some adjustments of her own and she relied less on her power and more on her knowledge of the sport.

“She got a lot smarter at reading the game,” Smith said. “That helped her become a more well-rounded player. It was not always about getting muscle behind the ball. She worked on her placement and knew when to swing.”

Hamm showed off that new versatility throughout the season and she was rarely taken off the court, allowing her to play on the back row. She did not disappoint and finished third on the team with 337 digs, averaging 19.1 per match.

“I think a lot of it was proving to coach and the other girls that I could play back row,” Hamm said. “It was kind of scary at first and it felt like a really big weight on my shoulders but they kept encouraging me and that helped me.”

As the postseason began, Wetumpka needed Hamm to be at her best at the front and defensively. The senior had no trouble stepping up, especially in the 6A Area 5 tournament championship where her 14 kills and 24 digs led Wetumpka to the title against Stanhope Elmore.

“I have seen her over the last couple of year and she has really grown,” Stanhope Elmore coach Virginia Barber said. “She controlled the game and her team in a really positive way. She always kept them up no matter what the score was.”

Hamm said, “That is super flattering to me. I know the girls hear it when they are on the court with me but to have my coach and even other coaches notice that and see that impact is a great feeling.”

Wetumpka will have to find a way to have success without Hamm on the court but with the rest of the team returning, the program still has high hopes. Hamm said she knows the Indians can do even better next year and she hopes she just opened the door for more success.

“Her talent will definitely be missed but I think she gave the current players something to aspire for,” Smith said. “She showed them that you can elevate your game and she raised that bar so hopefully we have two or three that can fill in there next year.”

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.