By Chris Parker
Southwest Missouri has become a hotbed for producing volleyball talent. That unquestioned center of that hotbed is Ozark. The Lady Tigers have been to nine consecutive Final Fours and will be looking to make it a decade of dominance with a 10th consecutive trip this season.
Ozark came up just short of the title last season by finishing in second place, but the experience has motivated the Lady Tigers to go for more this offseason.
“Playing in the championship match last year was a great achievement for the program and for the senior class that played a role in that success. The success from last season provided the team confidence and taught them to believe that they can achieve anything they want as long as they put in the effort. Each year is a new start and this team will have to learn to use that experience to motivate and push them every time they step on the competition floor,” head coach Adeana Brewer said.
Last year’s team was fairly young with just three seniors that played most of the sets. The head of that group was all-state selection Macey Putt who is now playing for Division I Arkansas State. She led the Lady Tigers with 368 kills and was second on the team with 275 digs.
“We will miss Macey’s heavy arm, physical presence at the net, and her ability to play six rotations on the floor. Macey was the go-to attacker when our team needed to score or side-out,” Brewer said.
Now for the good news. Ozark returns three all-state seniors in Kennadee Anderson, Brynn Bonewell and Julia McCown. All three are committed to Division I programs. In addition, Brewer has three more college commits in the class of 2019 with Katie Vorhies, Haidan Baade and Holly Luginbill at her disposal.
Anderson, who is committed to Arkansas State, returns at setter after falling just shy of a 1,000-assist season with 983. She will be entering her third year as the starting setter for Ozark.
“She has taken on a leadership role for the past two years and I look for her to do the same as a senior,” Brewer said. “She has continuously improved as a setter the past two years and she will continue to improve. She is a setter who plays good floor defense, she is becoming more comfortable attacking the second ball and finding holes in the competition’s defense, and she is running a quick and consistent offense. Kennedee will be looked at this year to be the calm, poised leader that can steady and rally her troops when needed.”
McCown, who is committed to Missouri State, will be Anderson’s top setting target after coming off of a 290-kill season. She will primarily be a middle hitter, but could step out to the outside as well.
“Julia brings height and has a long wing span which makes her a successful attacker. Julia has gotten more comfortable running a range of various sets which makes her a weapon that’s difficult to defend. She also has a high contact point, which allows her to hit high off hands or over the block at times,” Brewer said. “Julia will be one of our go-to attackers. She is crucial to our success and when she is committed to being offensively productive, she not only scores points on kills but she creates opportunities for other attackers to score by working hard in transition.”
Bonewell, a Missouri State sand volleyball commit, was one of the area’s best defensive players last year and shouldered an even bigger role on defense when Luginbill got injured last season. She was able to lead the team with 362 digs and 367 serve-receives.
“Brynn will most likely move into a six-rotation role or continue to add depth to our defensive department,” Brewer said. “Brynn has experience playing varsity since she has been a freshmen so she brings composure, leadership, and high-level pressure situation experience.”
Luginbill, another Missouri State volleyball commit, will slide back into her spot at libero. She had 173 digs in 75 sets last season.
“Although already a solid libero, Holly has made tremendous improvement over the offseason and I look for her to continue to improve,” Brewer said. “Holly covers a large area of ground in the middle back and can shovel up balls impressively. She has exceptional, solid defensive movement mechanics and I look for her to lead our defensive department.”
Baade, a William Jewell commit, is a third key piece at defensive specialist. She is one of the area’s best in the serve-receive game after receiving 359 serves and committing just eight errors last year.
“Hadian will play a crucial role in our floor defense and in serve receive this year,” Brewer said. “Haidan is quick and has fast reaction, an incredible work ethic, and always brings energy to the floor. The trio of Holly, Brynn and Hadian should give Ozark the ability to be in system in serve receive and to be a tough defensive team.”
Vorhies, who is committed to Harvard, will expand her role as an outside hitter this season. She accounted for 226 kills last year and is the only other returning player beside McCown with more than 24 kills in 2017.
“Katie will be one of our go-to attackers on the outside pin this season. She is learning to play the back row and be one of our primary passers as well,” Brewer said. “Katie is dynamic and explosive and has a quick snap in her arm swing. Katie played two rotations in the middle for us last year due to personnel we had in our senior class last year. Moving her to the pin will be exciting to watch. Katie works hard in in transition, which allows her to approach hard and fast and beat her blocking opponent.”
Sophomore Hannah Tadlock and junior Emily Essick will step up the varsity level this season. Tadlock will be a middle hitter and Essick an outside hitter.
All this firepower has Ozark focused on the postseason and October volleyball above all.
“Our goal is to always play hard and be the best team,” Brewer said. “I feel like our staple or what our program is known for is playing our best volleyball in October. If we drop a few early matches, we will learn from those and get better. We will be committed to being highly prepared to win when it counts the most.”
Ozark will open the season on Aug. 28 at home against Glendale.