A year ago at this time, the Ozark volleyball program was still in the process of preparing to play its inaugural season.
This off-season, second-year coach Kelsey Webb hasn’t had to spend much time on basics. Instead, she has been working with the Lady Hillbillies on more match-specific situations.
“It’s been completely different (this off-season),” Webb said. “Last year, we were still learning the game, learning skills, the very, very basics.
“This year, we’re taking a step forward and we’re kind of not necessarily perfecting those basic skills, but we’re getting a lot better to where we can go over more specific things that can happen in a match or just other things that we don’t have to work on the basic individual skills for the game, so that’s been really, really exciting.”
But like last season, there will be a transitional phase with the Lady Hillbillies entering their second season of play as they graduated eight seniors off of that inaugural team.
“We had to replace a lot, and a lot of those were starters,” Webb said. “We’ve had some younger kids come up as sophomores and we’re really excited about them.
“We have one senior, Taylor Tune, so although we’re going to be young, we still are working on that experience. We lost a lot of seniors and a lot of leadership, but a lot of younger kids are really stepping up this year.”
Tune, the team’s lone senior, plays defensive specialist.
“She will really step up for us,” Webb said. “She can also swing, but we’re really looking at her to be our main back-row player this year.”
There are also a bunch of underclassmen Webb is excited about having this season.
Kailee West, a 5-foot-7 junior, played middle hitter last season but Webb is counting on West to play a vital role as an outside hitter. Zoey McElroy (5-8) is another junior hitter who may also be a passer, while junior defensive specialist/libero Marissa Jones gained valuable experience playing club volleyball last year.
There’s also 6-2 sophomore middle hitter Carter Crane and the team’s only freshman, Briley Burns, who will be a setter but can also be a hitter on the right side.
In addition, there are players who are coming in from other sports which can help right away. Those include softball player Kelsie Baker, a junior who will be a defensive specialist, and 5-9 sophomore outside hitter Annika Crocker, a move-in from North Carolina who is a gymnast and is in her first season of playing volleyball.
“We’ve got a lot of height,” Webb said. “We’re still working on the experience, but we’ve got a lot of potential this year to be a lot better and to work on growing the program, especially this year might be a key year for that.”
In its first season last fall, Ozark won two matches. But the junior high team nearly finished .500, and several of those players will be on the varsity squad, and Webb likes what they bring to the court.
“The off-season this year looked so different just because we didn’t have any experience last year,” Webb said. “I came in June and we just had to hit the ground running pretty quick.
“This year, we actually got some work in the weight room, so we got stronger. … We learned the skills and we’re perfecting that skill but now we’re getting the girls more stronger and more athletic, so that’s something that has really, really helped us and that’s a huge difference that I’ve seen on the court for sure.”
For 2019, it will be the second straight season Ozark plays a provisional schedule, which means the Lady Hillbillies won’t be competing in a conference and are ineligible for postseason play. Starting in 2020, Ozark will get to play a conference schedule with a chance to advance to the playoffs.
The Lady Hillbillies will be traveling to a camp on Wednesday at Rogers Heritage and then later this month, will go to a team camp at Greenwood. They also go to a camp in early August at Pottsville.