The Elmore County volleyball team will try for its 13th consecutive area championships this year, and the Lady Panthers enter the 2022 season in a good position to achieve that goal.
Elmore County returns the bulk of its team from last season, including multiple All-Area players along with a large senior class that features 10 girls.
The Lady Panthers won 25 games last season and reached the Super Regionals, and they could make it even farther this season.
“I think we have a pretty good foundation to start this season with,” head coach Kim Moncrief said. “There are some things we need to work on, but playing games will help with those. We’re excited to get started. Our experience is a great thing to have. We have some strong seniors and juniors who were all starters last year.”
The position group with the biggest losses from last season is the hitters. Senior Seanna O’Daniel graduated from last year, and All-Area player Ally Orr did not return for her sophomore season.
But the position group could be just as strong. They are led by Coranda Lozada, one of the most talented hitters across the entire state of Alabama. She recorded 212 kills last year.
She is joined by senior Lizzy Brown, who missed most of last year with an injury. She suffered a broken arm during the first weekend of the season and sat out. This year, she will play a massive role up front.
Strong setter Abbi Williams will also help there as she is left-handed and is a strong hitter on the right side of the court.
“Lizzy is going to be a force to be reckoned with,” Moncrief said. “Abbi does her job so well too. She’s only a junior, but we are expecting a lot from her as a setter and a hitter. We’re pretty happy with where we are up front.” Williams isn’t the only talented setter on the team. Courtney Sides and Annabelle Orr are also both back this year. Sides was a starter and she is also doing some right side hitting, and Orr got significant playing time last season. All three setters will play heavy minutes.
On defense, the team will have plenty of starting experience back. That includes Hailey O'Brien, Taylor Ann Eason, and Natalie Sullivan.
Sullivan, a three-year starter and All-County member last season, recorded 100 digs last season in 94 sets, the most of any returning Panthers. She averaged 1.1 digs per set and 2.9 digs per match. Sullivan is also the team's leading server as she recorded 89 service aces and a 23.4 ace percentage on her serves.
O’Brien will be wearing the libero jersey again, but she isn’t the only talented defensive player on the court. Taylor Ann Eason will roam the back line with O’Brien and both have the ability to dig any kill hit at them.
“Both of them saw so many reps last year when they split the position” Moncrief said. “Hailey wears the libero jersey, but both of them play the same amount of time. A lot of times you won’t recognize Taylor Ann but she’s extremely good. Having both of them back helps so much because they’ve seen so much and can read other team’s offenses.”
One point of emphasis that Moncrief is hoping to see improvement in is blocking at the net.
The team as a whole tallied 55 blocks last season, but Moncrief believes this team could add a few more. Madison Byram looks to be the main shot blocker, and will take on that role when she gets back from a small injury. She led the team with 16 blocks last year.
Morgan Spear and Allye Justiss will also take be big contributors on the defensive side of the net.
“Morgan has really stepped up this summer,” Moncrief said. “She’s not as tall as Madison, but she has a really good eye to read the hitters. Allye has had a lot of blocks this summer. All three middles kind of bring something different to the table so it will be interesting to see how we use them each game.”