By Chris Parker
Kickapoo started slowly last year by going 2-4 in its first six matches. The Lady Chiefs went 20-6 the rest of the way including an unbeaten run through the Ozark Conference.
They return one of the area’s best players this year in senior Tayte Kozlowski. The Class 4 All-State selection accomplished the rare feat of leading Kickapoo in both kills (262) and assists (259).
“Tayte works extremely hard and is constantly thinking about how to put her team in a situation to be successful. She’s very athletic and talented and she uses that to her advantage defensively and offensively,” head coach Marci Adams said. “We’ll get her the ball as much as we can because she has power and is very crafty. Our expectations of Tayte is nothing less than what she expects of herself, and that is to give us her best each night. We’ll look to her for leadership in many areas and she’s definitely up to the task.”
Junior Lauren Forbes has already verbally committed to play for Mizzou after she graduates. She was second on the team in kills with 179 last year on her way to a second-team all-conference selection.
“Lauren will most likely be a six-rotation outside hitter for us,” Adams said. “She has great ball control and is very smooth and effective when pursuing the ball on defense, making it look easy. I think that, along with her high level athleticism attracted programs like Mizzou. But with her hops, competitive fire and power, don’t count her out on the front row.”
Classmate Melanie Cox also earned second-team all-conference honors as a sophomore. She could move around the court a bit this year.
“Melanie jumped in at the middle last year due to an injury and was very effective. She might have found herself a home in the middle, but she’s also very capable at either pin and maybe even a little serve and defense action. She has a lot of fun playing this game and wants nothing but the best for her team” Adams said.
Caitlyn Bernhard was just behind Kozlowski in assists with 246 last year, but this year she will be tasked with being on the attack more for Kickapoo.
“Caitlyn can play any position on the floor and you’ll see that as she makes a transition from setting and playing on a pin to attacking and blocking out of the middle,” Adams said. “She’s effective because she sees the game well, thinks about each play and has worked really hard to refine her fundamentals. I told her in the beginning of the summer she might see herself in various roles. She’s completely up to the task of fulfilling any role the team needs and to do it to the best of her ability. We will also look to her for leadership because through all circumstances she remains a very positive and determined player. Her season ended on an injury last year and I know she’ll be relentless at pursuing a different outcome.
Senior Josie Barrand (defensive specialist) and junior Lauren Faria (setter) also return to the varsity lineup. Barrand was a serving specialist last year with a 92.2% serving percentage on 256 attempts. Faria is likely to be the main setter in Kickapoo’s 5-1 offense this year.
Seniors Bailey Prude and Lily Eike along with juniors Kate Owen, Lauren Link and Katelyn Fisher five more upperclassmen who will compete for varsity action.
Kickapoo has not earned a berth in the state tournament since 2005. It is a drought that Kickapoo is capable of breaking this year, but the Lady Chiefs will have to navigate an always tough district.
“Breaking that drought will take more than talent. Kickapoo has had some talented teams, but the competitiveness of our district is going to require everyone firing on all cylinders and team unity at a very high level. We play a tough schedule and will look for opportunities to grow during each practice and competition,” Adams said.
A team-first approach will be key to the success for Kickapoo this year.
“Each year a new set of girls get the chance to mix their talents, challenge themselves with competition and fight for the goals they have set. We expect ourselves to be contenders in the end and have the tools to do that. We will need a team-first approach from our leaders and a high level of team unity,” Adams said.
Kickapoo opens the season on Sept. 5 at Republic