By Josh Hall
The Republic High School volleyball team enters the 2017 campaign with a relatively young team.
And that’s exactly why Lady Tigers head coach Piper Wright made it a goal to play the toughest competition she could find this summer.
“This summer, our philosophy is to play the best competition we can all the time,” Wright said a team camp in June. “We might be getting beat this summer, but I’ve been really encouraged. We play hard and we do a really good job defensively.”
Republic loses four key players from last year’s team that went 19-13-1 after falling to Carthage in a Class 4, District 12 semifinal game.
The Lady Tigers will have to replace Lexi Long (114 kills, 32 blocks), Rachael Combs (151 kills, 90 digs), Hailey Noblitt (131 digs) and Alli Wright (137 digs).
“We’re going to be pretty young this year, but that’s exciting,” Wright said. “We don’t have a lot of power hitters. We’re pretty small, but we’re still finding ways to score.”
Leading the way for Republic this season will be Eryn Russell. As a junior last season, Russell was a Central Ozark Conference-Large first-team selection after recording 305 digs as the Lady Tigers’ libero.
Second-team all-conference selection Bella Drennon was Republic’s setter and finished the season with 600 assists. A sophomore last season, Drennon also led the Lady Tigers with 51 aces to go along with 133 digs.
Also back is all-conference honorable mention selection Lauren O’Hara, who tallied a team-high 196 kills as a sophomore in 2016.
Fellow junior Taegen Thomas rounds out the Republic’s most experience players from a year ago. Thomas recorded 79 kills and 26 blocks last season.
“If you ask them their goal right now for summer, it’s just to get better, just work on the things we’re trying to get better at,” Wright said. “We always have high hopes. We have a strong tradition of winning, so we’re going to try to continue that tradition.”