Tallassee preps for tough tests in Class 5A

Lizi Arbogast / The Tribune Tallassee's Jordan Walters makes a move for the ball in a match against Dadeville during last season’s area tournament.

A strong start quickly faded into more disappointment for the Tallassee volleyball team last season. The Tigers were given a wake-up call in just the third match of the season against new area opponent Saint James and again two weeks later against Brew Tech.

In five matches last season against those two teams, Tallassee dropped all 15 sets and failed to qualify for super regionals for the second consecutive season. Now, Tiger coach Katie Rigsby is trying to use that strong competition to motivate her team to get better.

“It’s something I drill at them,” Rigsby said. “I’ll say this may be good enough to beat other teams but the fundamentals aren’t good enough or consistent enough to compete at that high level with those teams. I think it’s a motivator. It won’t be easy but that’s just a hurdle we have to jump over.”

Seven players return for the Tigers. A group of four seniors will be relied upon to show leadership in big games and it is confident things are going to go differently this time around.

“I think our mindset will be better because we know what to expect,” senior Jordan Walters said. “We have been practicing a lot. We want to make it farther than we did last year and I think this team can do it.”

Walters plays middle for the Tigers and is a part of a strong front line that returns several key pieces. Senior Ivory Champion is back to fill the left side plus Anslee Osborne and Sally Shipman return to control the right side while filling in at other positions when needed.

“I’m confident in my senior group,” Rigsby said. “They do bring leadership, especially out of the middle. I’m throwing a lot at them and they’re playing in a lot of spots for me but they’re taking it like champs. They’re practicing hard.”

Rigsby said she is still trying to find the right pieces to the puzzle and one of those pieces is finding a new setter for the big hitters at the front. Fortunately for the Tigers, they did not have to go far, finding a new setter who was already on the team.

“The setter that just graduated was with us for our whole volleyball career,” Shipman said. “Lexi Love and Anslee Osborne worked really hard so I think our setting has really stepped up.”

Rigsby said Love is expected to be the main setter for Tallassee with Osborne filling in at other spots when needed. However, she said both players have been performing well in practice and the confidence is growing in the offensive attack.

“It’s coming together,” Rigsby said. “We’re getting a lot of good swings and good attacks so that proves to me we’re going to be alright. It’s a lot about timing so we’re trying to get that down and getting our setters more consistent.”

Belle Haynes returns as the team’s libero while Chloe Baynes has stepped into a left side hitter role. Newcomer Ciarra Bice will play middle and she will be joined by fellow freshmen Jenna Manning and Haley Baker.

“I think we have some upcoming talent and we’ve been working really hard to work together as a team,” Champion said. “I’m pretty sure once the first games are here, we’ll be doing pretty good.”

Rigsby said there is still a long way to go before the Tigers are ready to compete for an area championship but she knows they have what it takes to get there by the end of the season. While a lot of the returning talent is in the attack, Rigsby said the focus is still on fine-tuning the defense before the first match.

“If we can’t pass a ball or dig a ball out of defense, we can’t run our offense,” Rigsby said. “We’ve been working hard on our defense and we’ve always been known as a scrappy defense team. Hopefully that will continue but we just have to be more consistent so we can get more balls down from the attacking line.”

Tallassee starts its season Tuesday with a trip to Stanhope Elmore before hosting a tri-match with Reeltown and Marbury next Thursday.

Caleb Turrentine is a sports writer for Tallapoosa Publishers Inc.