By Chris Parker
Laurel Durst enters her fifth season as head coach of the Fordland volleyball program. The Lady Eagles finished 19-6-2 last season, which ended with a district semifinal loss to Billings.
Sophie Sparks will be the senior leader for Fordland. She is a dominant force for the Lady Eagles as she led the team in digs (522) and aces (62) last year.
“Sophie is just a great athlete. Her excelled court awareness enables her to read what’s going to happen before it happens and get to most of the shots,” Durst said. “Her consistency and aggressiveness from behind the serving line makes her hard to defend. She’s not afraid to serve hard but she can also hit a soft shot short over the net so she’s able to mix it up while staying consistent. She knows exactly where she wants the ball to go every time she goes back to serve and that confidence is what makes her a tough server.”
Sparks will be playing more of a utility role this season as she adds hitting to her repertoire.
Emily Whiteford will provide a steady presence at setter after accounting for 431 or Fordland’s 439 assists last season.
“Emily has been our setter since she was a sophomore so the rest of the girls have always looked to her to carry the team in that position,” Durst said. “She’s always been a leader on the floor so I expect the same from her this year. I think her being a senior will just push her even more to really give it her all since it’s her last year.”
Fordland will be looking for answers in their attack after losing all three of their kill leaders from last season. Junior Kenzie Branson will be the starting middle hitter this season and the focus of the attack.
Sophomore Mahalia Burks is a defensive specialist, but can play anywhere for Fordland. Gracie Trotter will move into the libero role this season.
“She (Trotter) will be taking on a big responsibility for our team. She got some experience in the role last year when we had some injuries and has been training all summer in that position to be ready to be in that role full time,” Durst said.
Senior Emily Hale along with sophomores Tristann Crowe and Alissa Lucas will see more varsity time this year after playing junior varsity a year ago. Freshmen Lauren Hale and Hailey Pilkington will also see varsity time this season.
Fordland may experience some early growing pains as the Lady Eagles try to mix veteran and new varsity players.
“This year we are going to be equally mixed between veteran players and freshman and former junior varsity players in our lineup,” Durst said. “We have a lot of raw talent from the younger kids to add to our experienced upperclassmen, so I think once they all get used to playing together at the varsity level pace they will start to really excel. I’m expecting it to be a season where we see more games in the win column in the later part of the season as we build.”