By Chris Parker
Rogersville left no doubt last year on the way to winning the program’s first state championship. The Lady Wildcats went 6-0 on first day of pool play before completing their run to a title with a 2-0 win over Lutheran South in the state championship match the following day.
“This has been a goal for our program for as long as I have been coaching (20 years). I am sure long before that too,” Rogersville Head Coach Tammy Miller said. “We talk about it (winning a state championship) year in and year out, so it’s a dream come true. Our 2018 State Championship wasn’t just about that team, it was years and years of hard work and those who set the expectations years before. I currently have four on staff (Molly Terry, Kacie Callison, Angela Jackson and Brittni Allison and many more over the years) who are former players who have come back to coach, teach and help us reach our program goal. Each of the previous teams are so special because it took an entire community to make this happen. As I tell my student-athletes: Dreams do come true with a lot of hard work and determination; that is what this program has created.”
Rogersville finished 39-2 overall last year.
The Lady Wildcats haven’t gotten complacent in the offseason, as they look to defend their state championship.
“I believe each year we work hard in the offseason, and this year is no different,” Miller said. “Over the years we have tried to cultivate an environment of hard work, high expectations, no excuses and never quit no matter the circumstances and they are continuing to meet our standards.”
Four all-conference seniors are gone from that team in Gabby Massengale, Allie Gipson, Maci McHenry and Sydney Dunavant.
It is a quartet that left a mark on the Rogersville volleyball program.
“They demanded their teammates to play at a high level,” Miller said. “They knew how to win and they expected nothing less of themselves and their teammates.”
Birdie Hendrickson returns to lead the Lady Wildcats this year after earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors as a junior. There is nothing the Florida commit can’t do on the volleyball court as evidenced by her 393 kills, 359 digs, 381 serve-receives, 43 assists, 31 aces and 19 blocks. The kills, digs, serve-receives and blocks led the team.
“She is extremely athletic; maybe the most purely athletic girl we’ve seen in my tenure,” Miller said. “She is very skilled, knows the game well and coachable. What’s more important that many forget is so valuable is that she is a phenomenal teammate.”
Hendrickson won’t be alone on the attack with fellow all-state selection Claire Taylor returning for her senior season after putting down 243 kills last season. Taylor, who will be a setter in college, missed her sophomore season due to injury.
“I think she was a surprise to many because she had to sit out her sophomore year due to an injury, but what a great year she had,” Miller said. “She is another extremely athletic girl with a high-energy motor she brings to the court. She is another great teammate, playing ‘out of position’ for our team, but was so willing to do what our team needed her to do and that was pass/swing and play great defense. When I asked her to do it, she never wavered and said ‘Yes, Coach I will do whatever my team needs’.”
The offense will be orchestrated by junior Samantha Thompson who tallied 875 assists last season.
“Last year Sam had some big shoes to fill as we returned a very veteran offensive team for the 2018 season,” Miller said. “She was inexperienced, but did a great job after settling in to her role. I was hard on her and demanded her to play at their level and I am so proud of what she did for our team. She grew so much as the season progressed.”
This year Thompson brings the confidence of a state champion to her role.
“I think she is more confident in her role, understands the game more and is more vocal,” Miller said. “I am hard on my setters as they do so much for our game. She’s extremely coachable and wants to get better. I love her determination and looking forward to seeing her continue to grow.”
Senior Libby Kish and junior McKinzie Thompson also return to the lineup after seeing varsity action last season. Kish is a middle/outside hitter who saw time in 34 sets last year. Thompson is a defensive specialist who played in 82 sets last year.
New players on the varsity court include seniors Shayley Dunavant and Jaden Robb, who will both see time as defensive specialists. Juniors Ashley Warren and Chelsea Schatzer will play both middle and outside hitter. Sophomores Katelyn Crossland (middle hitter) and Lauren Williams (right side) will also figure into the varsity equation.
“Just like all other seasons, we want to compete at a high level and put ourselves into a position to win all of our matches, be the best team and teammates we can be, never take anything for granted and work hard day in and day out,” Miller said.
Rogersville opens the season on Sept. 3 at Branson.