By Chris Parker
Miller volleyball was one of the area’s top small school programs last year after the Lady Cardinals won a district championship and came up one set short of earning a trip to the Class 1 Final Four to finish 26-10-1.
In the Class 1 Quarterfinals, the Lady Cardinals won the first set over Winona 25-20. The Lady Cardinals would drop back-to-back sets 25-19 and 25-13 to end the season.
“It’s hard to forget being that close and not making it to the Final Four, but our philosophy is ‘The only point that matters in the next point,’” 15th-year head coach Tamra Landers said. “We are just going to take it a game at a time, always building to that next level.”
Miller has to replace three seniors in Lynna Hadlock, Tori Collins and Riley Pennington. Hadlock was an all-state selection after she led the Lady Cardinals in digs (525) and serve-receives (630). Collins, a first-team all-conference selection, led the team with 56 blocks and was second in kills with 269.
“We have coached those girls since they were in seventh grade. These three will never be replaced, they not only provided great athletic ability but they brought out the best in their teammates,” Landers said. “They lead by example and we are hoping that our younger girls are able to carry on their work ethic and love for the game.”
Senior Bethany Gulick will be one of the top returning players after leading the team in kills last year with 293. She earned all-conference second-team honors for her efforts.
“She’s coming off of a great summer,” Landers said. “Her ability to see the floor and pick apart an opponent’s weakness makes her an offensive threat.”
Saydie Barnes returns after a 651-assist season as a junior, but could move around the court depending on team needs.
Senior Macy Mitchell (outside hitter) along with juniors Jessica Epps (defensive specialist), Jazmine McElroy (outside hitter) and Audrey Barnes (outside hitter) return to varsity this season. Kiarra Cole (senior outside hitter), Alli Mitchell (freshman setter) and Claudia Hadlock (outside hitter/setter) will be some new faces to watch this year for Miller.
The Lady Cardinals leave the SRVC to join the newly formed Southwest Conference this season. It will be made up of former SRVC schools Diamond, Lockwood, Pierce City and Sarcoxie along with former Mid-Lakes programs Ash Grove, Marionville and Pleasant Hope.
“The Southwest Conference has several good volleyball programs we hope to continue to compete and hopefully finish somewhere near the top,” Landers said. “As always expectations are high for our team. Our goals are to finish at the top of the conference and make a long run into the post season.”
Miller opens the season on Aug. 25 at the Verona Invitational.