By Chris Parker
Briana Kleine enters her second season as the head coach of Cassville looking to keep the momentum going from last year’s 18-12-2 season. She will start by having to replace last year’s lone first-team all-conference selection for Cassville in setter Jesse Edie.
“Edie was a huge presence on the court because of how great she was as a leader,” Kleine said. “She was vocal, and she kept the girls motivated. As a senior, she expected a lot out of her team, and rightly so. On the other side of that, she really was an outstanding athlete. She was a fantastic setter, and she left some pretty big shoes to fill.”
Cassville returns a dominant hitter in Brianna Hemphill. Hemphill, who was a second-team all-conference selection last year, put down 255 kills to lead the Lady Wildcats last season. She also led the team in digs (256) and blocks (31).
“She is very aggressive at the net, and she can hit out of any position,” Kleine said. “She provides height and an aggression that is hard to find. This year, we are playing with the idea that Hemphill might set some for us. She has great hands, but we also do not want to eliminate her from our offensive line-up.”
Morgan Popanz was Cassville’s final all-conference selection last year on the honorable mention team. She is a big undersized, but that didn’t stop her from putting down 161 kills as a junior last year.
“Morgan Popanz has really come alive as a leader,” Kleine said. “She is a great offensive option on the right side, and she is very aggressive at the net no matter who she is playing. She’s fairly small in size as a hitter, but she makes up for it with her impressive vertical. It is not uncommon to see her go up against hitters who have five or six inches on her as aggressively as if they were the same size. We have seen a lot of growth out of her in terms of leadership and going after the ball no matter what.”
Seniors Chloe Roller and Avery Brown both saw time at libero last season and return this year. Fellow senior Dalia Phelps and junior Kennedy Parnell return as outside hitters as well.
Sophomore right-side/setter Olivia Holman and her classmate in defensive specialist Chantly Yarnall will see more court time this year after each played more than 20 varsity sets last season.
Two freshmen in defensive specialist Landry Parnell and middle hitter Sharayah Seymour should see time on varsity to start their careers as well.
Cassville will take up residence in the west side of the Big 8 this season with mostly tradition Big 8 foes and Nevada.
“The conference split is actually pretty interesting. It’s a toss-up on who could take first on our side, as everyone has a solid shot at it,” Kleine said. “I certainly think that both sides present a challenge for the teams aligned on that particular side, and it will be interesting to see how the Big 8 Championship goes at the end of it all. That said, we are excited to welcome these teams to the Big 8. It adds some great volleyball to the conference from schools who have a long-standing history of good volleyball.”
The schedule increases in difficulty this season, which is a challenge the Lady Wildcats welcome.
“With the level of competition getting better, our goal is for our girls to get better. We aren’t shooting for a particular number of wins; we just want to see them improve from where they were the previous year,” Kleine said.
If their work in the summer is any indication of what is to come, Kleine is confident her team will rise to the challenge.
“Program-wide, we have really great kids who work really hard. This summer, we really challenged them in their workouts, and we love how they responded,” Kleine said. “They got after it with intention, and they made every rep count. Not every program has kids that will do the hard stuff before they get to the fun stuff, but we are lucky to have these hard-working athletes. I can’t say enough about them.”