By Chris Parker
Mt. Vernon had an 11-15-1 record going into October last season. The young Lady Mountaineers flipped a switch when the month’s final season got going and finished 6-1 down the stretch to earn a district runner-up plaque and finish 17-16-1 overall.
“(It) took our young team a few weeks to get adjusted to the level and pace of play, dropping several three-set matches, but (we) hit our stride at the end of the season,” Mt. Vernon head coach Bridgett Schmutz said.
Three varsity starters graduated from that team in Samantha Staab, Alexa Lee and Sydney Swillium. Staab led the team in kills (282) and blocks (38) on her way to first-team all-conference honors.
Mt. Vernon will be led from the back row this year by senior libero Ashlyn McCanless. She had 372 digs and 495 serve-receives last year on her way to second-team all-conference honors.
“We will look for her experience to guide our team and head up our defense which will be key because of our lack of size,” Schmutz said.
Seniors Maddy Mosley and Madysen Barber will also provide leadership. Barber is a transfer from Marionville who finished in the top three for both kills and blocks last season.
Bethany Williams and Raelin Swillum are two returning junior starters. Williams, who was all-conference honorable mention, was second on the team in kills (160) and blocks (17). Swillum led the team in aces (29) and assists (343).
“Williams really came into her own as the season progressed and we look for her to pick up where she left off,” Schmutz said. “Swillum was part of our setting duo and plays with a lot of passion, (and is) always having fun on the court.”
Madison Lacey, Brooklynn Porter, Raegan Prescott and Katelyn Kotlarz are four more juniors who will look to make an impact.
Sophomores Lacy Stokes and Ellie Johnston return after starting as freshmen. Stokes was the second part of the Lady Mountaineer setting duo with 268 assists last year. Johnston put down 64 kills to go with 103 digs last year.
“Stokes is still learning the ropes at the QB position, but her speed and grit bring a huge spark to the floor that is unmistakable,” Schmutz said. “Johnston plays with great fluidity and natural instincts and will need to bring her game up another notch, taking over games on both offense and defense.”
Mt. Vernon will be undersized this season, which means a sharp focus on defense.
“Defense will be the name of the game for us,” Schmutz said. “Size is a little limited so working in a smart offensive system with a gritty defensive mindset will be crucial.”
Mt. Vernon opens the season on Aug. 25 at the Branson Tournament.