The first year of a new program isn’t expected to be the best, and the second year there’s bound to be a few more growing pains. But in a third year, the players really start to get a feel for the game and their coach and that’s when growth truly happens.

That’s hopefully the trajectory for Reeltown’s volleyball team as it enters its third year of existence.

Each season, the Rebels have gotten better and better and they’re expecting even more this year.

“The ladies are putting in a lot of work during practice and we’re working on more than just fundamentals,” Reeltown coach Kelli Hilyer said. “With most of them, this is going to be their third season playing varsity ball, so they understand the rotations; they understand defenses; and they’re really starting to play with more strategy.”

A ton of returning starters should also really help the team along. All but two of the Rebel players return from last year.

Taniya Haynes, Gabby Williams, Kiley Bowens, Eryn Wells and Nyla Hayden are all seniors and have shown leadership qualities. Haynes and Wells will both be middle hitters, while Williams, Bentley Baker and Laney Futral will take up the outside hitting spots.

Hayden and Bella Studdard will split the setting duties depending on the rotation, and Bowens is the returning starting libero.

Also joining the team are Kenzie Hornsby and Diyanna Newton. Although this is their first year playing volleyball, they both play other sports so they have a competitive edge. Hornsby and Newton will play outside hitter.

“Kenzie and Diyanna are in their first season but they’ve stepped right in there along with the rest of the team,” Hilyer said.

With such an arsenal of hitters, Hilyer expects the offense to be a strength for Reeltown and she also said the Rebels are chock full of strong servers.

Reeltown is in an area with Fayetteville, Thorsby and Coosa and it placed third last season in the area tournament; Hilyer said she’s hoping to take that one step further, grab one of the top two spots and advance to regionals.

“My goal this year is top two in area, go to regionals and do our best there,” Hilyer said. “If we keep improving the way that I feel like we’re improving over our practice time and that corresponds on the court, I foresee these ladies going pretty far for their third season. It’s amazing to watch them and how they’re communicating. Especially to know it’s their third season, that’s what makes me proud.”

Reeltown started its season Monday at B.B. Comer and will immediately hit the area schedule with a match at Thorsby on Tuesday. The Rebels play their first five games on the road and don’t host their home opener until Sept. 17 when they have a tri-match with LaFayette and Wadley. But Hilyer is hoping the early travel will get the girls used to what they may face later in the postseason.

As for now, Hilyer said the biggest thing the Rebels need to improve on is their confidence.

“I want to improve on if they get down by a few points or more they pick each other up,” Hilyer said. “That’s more being resilient and keeping their heads up. I know that they can fight back. I just want them to do know they can do it and make it happen.”

Lizi Arbogast is the sports editor at Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.