By Josh Hall (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Staci Saunders isn’t selling her team short in 2017.
The Joplin High School volleyball coach has high expectations for the Lady Eagles following a season in which they went 18-18-1 after falling to Carl Junction in a Class 4, District 12 semifinal.
“I think we’ll improve on our record,” Saunders said. “I believe we have a shot to be in the district finals. Our goal this season is to win districts.”
Joplin loses a key piece in Andie Myers, a second-team All-Ozark Conference selection last year who is now playing at Labette Community College. But the positive is the Lady Eagles return six seniors, four of whom have multiple years of experience playing at the varsity level.
“They are a group of seniors that have played club all the way through, and they were very successful this last club season,” Saunders said. “They’re ready to win in the high-school season. They love to compete and they love to win.
“They’re a team that plays with guts and they play with grit. I’m excited about this season. I think it’s going to be a really good one.”
Joplin will be led by four-year starter Jessica Zengel, a first-team all-conference selection a year ago. Zengel compiled 243 kills and 262 digs as 5-foot-7 outside hitter last year.
“I’m expecting her to do great things,” Saunders said. “She is a standout. She’s fun to watch. She’s one of those kids that can do everything.”
Also returning is senior setter Hadley Harper, who tallied 608 assists last season. She will be joined by senior right-side hitter Jillian Lopes and senior libero Julia Wade-Hess. Lopes was an honorable mention all-conference pick after earning 128 kills and 170 digs as a junior. Wade-Hess added 203 digs in 2016.
That veteran senior group, along with up-and-coming seniors Reilly Sitton (middle) and Caroline Lieurance (defensive specialist/setter), have had conversations about winning a district title during camps this summer.
“That is definitely on their mind,” Saunders said. “They really want to win districts and they want to win big games.”
The Lady Eagles will also have juniors Malia Mack and Mallory Cravens joining the mix. Saunders is excited about Macks, who is a 6-foot middle.
“She’s done a lot of work in the offseason,” Saunders said. “I feel like she’s going to come in and make an immediate impact on our team. I think that was kind of the missing piece that we had last year. We didn’t really have a big blocker.”