By Josh Hall
Despite losing four all-Ozark Conference players from last year’s team that won 25 games and played for a district championship, Hillcrest High School volleyball coach Robin Collins is optimistic going into the 2017 campaign.
The Lady Hornets went 25-7 (6-3 Ozark Conference) after falling to Willard in two sets in the Class 4, District 10 title game last season.
“I think we’ll still be in the mix in our district and conference,” Collins said at a tournament in early July. “I think again we’ll be looked at as kind of an outside shot and underdog. I’m kind of okay with that. We did okay with that last year. It’s going to be an alright year. We’re going to be okay.”
Hillcrest loses two first-team all-conference selections in Rachel Pfeifer and Sierra Baker. Also gone is second-team all-conference pick Kinsie Williams and honorable mention selection Emily Henderson.
With several changes in the varsity lineup, the Lady Hornets will have a different style of play this year.
“We’re going to have to take care of the ball,” Collins said. “We’re going to have to serve well, we’re going to have to serve-receive well. If we get a chance to put the ball down, we’ve got to take advantage. Everything we’ve been gearing this summer has been setting up to get one free ball.
“That means a lot stronger focus on defense than last year, whereas last year we focused a lot more on offense. That was more of our talent, but this year it’s going to be defensively-minded and we are going to be opportunistic. If we can get the job done when we get a chance, we’re going to be okay.”
Hillcrest does have some experience coming back.
Honorable mention all-conference selection and senior captain Lakin Barrett will set again after leading the team in assists her junior year. Fellow honorable mention all-conference pick Jocelyn Tidwell is also returns to the outside after finishing second on the team in kills as a junior.
Audrey Broyles, a defensive specialist as a junior, will be taking over the defense this season as the Lady Hornets’ libero.
“They’re dependable, they’re strong leaders,” Collins, now in her fourth year at the helm, said. “If they can lead by example and show our newbies what to do, we’re going to do just fine.”
Collins expects senior Jasmyn Johnson to lead the offensive attack as an outside hitter. Johnson is back after missing the entire volleyball and basketball seasons after suffering an ACL injury last August.
Sophomores Jolene Tidwell (middle hitter) and Madison Letterman (setter) will also be key pieces for Hillcrest this season.
“I have a good nucleus of kids that do have varsity experience,” Collins said. “That’s a plus.”