By Chris Parker
Southwest Missouri coaching legend Becky Justis took over the Galena volleyball program last year. The Lady Bears finished 11-14-5 in Justis’ first season.
Galena loses three seniors from last year’s team including all-conference selections Megan Caufield and Mary Yocum. The duo led the Lady Bears in kills last season.
“We will miss them,” Justis said of the seniors. “All three seniors repeatedly said they wish we could have had you for more than one year which was my wish as well. When you walk away feeling like that, you know both sides made an impact on each other. For that we are grateful.”
Big things can be expected for Galena this year if turnout in the summer is any indication of what is to come.
“This summer has been amazing with our athletes,” Justis said. “They bought in to the expectations of hard work and dedication. We had nearly 100% attendance at six am workouts every day. That is a big sacrifice for these kids since our district is very spread out and many of them have to go on and work a full time job as well. They learned sacrifice and the results from it.”
Tatum Johnson returns for her senior season after earning all-conference honors last season. She is the leading returner in kills after putting down 105 last year. She led the Lady Bears in aces with 47.
“Tatum knows what we are expecting out of her both offensively and defensively,” Justis said. “She will understand she can’t afford to have an off night. With year number two with her she knows what we expect and is learning to accept that responsibility. She is a great kid with a heart of gold and is doing a great job of demonstrating leadership within the program.”
Jaelyn Cutbirth led the team in assists last year as a freshman with 185. Jadyn Greene was just behind her at 151 assists, but graduated leaving the primary setting duties to Cutbirth this season. Fellow sophomore Lexi Miller had 85 kills last year as a freshman and will see an expanded hitting role this year.
“They both have come in working very hard in the weight room,” Justis said. “Lexi is going to have to fill Megan’s shoes right away. She will be the go-to player offensively. Jaelyn will be more comfortable leading the offense and we expect her to train and help whomever the other setter will be.”
Madison Mathewson is the other returning varsity player. She will be a libero in her senior season.
There is a slew of new faces that will compete for time this year including: Katelyn Lebow (setter/defense), Nila Keltner (setter), Madison Jennings (hitter/defense), Sierra Ledford (hitter), Kady Cool (hitter/defense), Destiny Cloud (hitter) and Mikayla Cloud (hitter).
That competition will be key to Galena improving wins and meeting big goals.
“They have learned the expectations are high and going to stay high. I hope for these kids their hard work off the court pays off on the court,” Justis said. “We want to improve on our wins. Our passing game will be our strongest. We have to work and develop some hitters other than Lexi and Tatum. We will be very young and inexperienced offensively.”