By Chris Parker
Joplin advanced the Class 4 District 12 semifinals before falling to Carl Junction to finish 22-12 on the season.
The Lady Eagles move from the Ozark Conference to the Central Ozark Conference this season, which will present its own sets of challenges.
“We are excited about the move, because the travel in the Ozark Conference can take a toll on a team over the course of a season. But we definitely realize that this conference overall will be tougher and run quicker offenses,” eighth-year head coach Staci Saunders said. “In past seasons, we have played all the teams in the teams in the COC except Ozark and Branson. So we know to some extent what to expect. Our kids are going to have to step up in order to compete with these volleyball powerhouses.”
Six seniors, including first-team all-conference selection Jessica Zengel and second-team all-conference honoree Jillian Lopes, graduated from last season’s team.
Middle hitter Malia Mack returns after earning second-team all-conference honors as a junior. She put down 110 kills last year while leading the team in blocks with 31.
“Malia has put in lots of work this off season through club and JHS workouts and camps. She has matured as a player and has gotten more consistent and confident,” Saunders said. “She has been the leader of our team this summer, and I see her leading our young team on and off the court this fall. She will be our go to hitter and is quite a presence in the middle. She is quick and able to hit from anywhere on the net.”
Mallory Cravens earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a junior. She tallied the team’s second-most kills with 127 last year. This year she will play six rotations after being a three-rotation player as a junior.
“Mallory has also stepped up this summer and has taken co-leadership roles with Malia,” Saunders said. “She has gotten stronger and we will be going to her a lot this season. She will be playing six rotations and has really stepped up her game on defense.”
Hadley Harper graduated and took with her 409 assists. That leaves junior Mari Katheryn Saunders to step up and take over as the main setter after accounting for 131 assists in 37 sets last year.
“Mari Katheryn has stepped up to the plate and will be running our 5-1 offense this year,” Saunders said. “She is quick and has great hands. She runs the floor with confidence and will be running the floor for us this year. She also sees through the net well and does a good job finding holes in teams defenses.”
Jeanie Juneweeranong will take over as libero this year after serving as a defensive specialist last year.
“She will lead our team on defense and plays the game with a lot of heart,” Saunders said. She is quick and reads offenses really well. She will be our defensive go to and will be key to our success this season.”
Junior Ryland Dermott (middle hitter/outside hitter) along with sophomores Anna Neuendorf (middle hitter/blocker), Addison Saunders (right side hitter) and Aubrey Ritter (outside hitter) and freshman Kacy Coss (middle hitter/outside hitter) will be some new faces to watch for on the varsity level.
Saunders knows the Central Ozark Conference will be tough, but thinks Joplin can compete right away.
“I think we are going to surprise some people. We are a young and inconsistent team, but at times this summer, we were very competitive,” Saunders said. “We need for these young players to develop quickly and rise up to the challenge. We need to work on being more consistent and doing what we can do well. This team has heart and will put in the work in order to be successful this season. I will have high expectations for them this season, because I know they are capable. By the end of the season, I would like to see us competing for a district title.”
Joplin opens the season on Aug. 27 at home against Rogers (Ark.).