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Caleb Turrentine / The Tribune Tallassee’s Chloe Baynes hits a ball at the net.

It has been a challenging offseason for all fall sports season but as the return to play gets closer, excitement from coaches and players has taken over the wheel as teams attempt to look past all the doubts and prepare for a new season. The Tallassee volleyball program is no different as the Tigers hit the court for their first practice last week and excitement was the major theme on the court.

“I think they’re excited to be doing something,” Tallassee coach Katie Rigsby said. “With the kids being out of school for so long and out of softball, it’s just been a really long summer. The excitement level is huge because they’re just glad to be out of the house. We all are.”

The Tigers are in the same boat as every other program in the state, trying to prepare for a season after an extremely limited offseason. But Rigsby said that is not the only thing Tallassee is having to worry about entering the fall.

“It’s difficult for us as a program because not a lot of our girls play travel volleyball,” Rigsby said. “We’re playing catchup on a normal season so now, it’s almost like we’re even farther behind. With that being said, we just have to take it one day at a time and do everything we can.”

Some teams are fortunate enough to have a majority of their starting lineups returning to the court and while the Tigers do have some key players coming back, they will have to replace a lot of their production at the net including all-county middle Jordan Walters and Sally Shipman.

“I lost a lot of talent and a lot of height,” Rigsby said. “We’re trying to find where each piece fits and try to fill those empty places with what we have. We have some big shoes to fill and it’s going to be a lot of young girls. It’s going to be difficult to replace but they are working hard.”

The challenges for the Tigers do not end there though as one player who would be expected to fill some of that production in the attack is returning starter Chloe Baynes. However, Baynes is not entering the season as 100% as she continues to recover from an arm injury sustained on the softball field in February.

“That’s one of my big hitters so that’s something that could be a difficulty at the beginning of the season,” Rigsby said. “She’s not fully swinging yet. We’re being cautious, we don’t want to push her too hard or too fast. She’s still rehabbing but she’s out there.”

The Tigers will have several options to help out Baynes in the meantime but not many with a lot of experience. 

Reeltown transfer Chloe Davidson will be playing in her first season with the Tigers and is expected to become a weapon as an outside hitter but could be used in a variety of spots. Cici Bice played middle last season but could see some more time as an outside hitter.

Bethany Walters, A’Jaida Griffin, Marlee Stewart and Izabella Kennamore are also battling for some playing time on the front line.

“It’s great,” Rigsby said. “When I look at this team compared to last year, I see some depth. I see a lot of depth and a lot of versatility and that’s great as a coach.”

Lexi Love returns as the starting setter for the Tigers and has plenty of experience working with many of the hitters on the front row. Jenna Manning also returns as the backup setter and both players are expected to play all over the court.

“It’s always good to have a setter return,” Rigsby said. “They are used to that and they know what to expect. They click well together. It gives them some consistency out there.”

Belle Haynes is also a returning starter and she will be back leading the defensive work as Tallassee’s libero. 

“She’s one of those athletes you just have to shake your head about,” Rigsby said. “She has one of the highest verticals on the team and can probably play front row if we needed her to. As of now though, she is my best passer so I want to keep her at that libero spot.”

Tallassee opens its season with a trip to Holtville on Aug. 25. 

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.