By Chris Parker
Camdenton volleyball graduated four seniors from last year’s team that finished 17-14-1. One of those seniors that graduated is all-state selection Natalie Basham, who led the team in kills last year.
Replacing her production will be key to Camdenton’s success in 2019.
“Natalie was a dynamic hitter for us. Anything she was set, she could find something to do with it. She was just a great athlete whom will be missed. She was our ‘go-to’ girl for over two years. We will miss her ability to put a ball away in a crunch, but as the summer has progressed we’ve seen some emerging leaders and other girls who want to be that girl,” Camdenton head coach Austin Walker said.
Three all-conference selections return for the Lady Lakers. Sydney Smith and Payton Kincaid earned second-team all-conference honors last year. Madison Robinson earned honorable mention all-conference honors in 2018.
Smith was a versatile weapon for Camdenton last year as a sophomore. She led the Lady Lakers in assists with 354 and aces with 30. The junior also finished second on the team in kills with 123.
“Sydney loves the game of volleyball. She is so smart when it comes to court awareness and knowing when she has to take over the game. She is always pushing herself to get better in practice and asking questions. She is also a dynamic outside hitter for us. So not only can she set, she can also get us a kill on the outside when we are in a jam,” Walker said.
Smith will see a much expanded role in her junior year as a setter and outside hitter.
“Sydney’s role changes drastically this year. We’ve been talking about how we have to have her be a leader on the court no matter where she is. She doesn’t get to be quiet anymore; she has to push those around her to be better and control our offense. When she is on the front row we’ve talked a lot about finding a way to score us point be it from a tip or a big kill. I think we will see her shine a lot this year under pressure and in the big role of being the ‘it’ leader,” Walker said.
Kincaid found her success on the varsity level right way as a freshman.
“Payton was thrown into the role of varsity starter about two weeks into season because of injuries. We would say she didn’t know to be intimidated or scared when it came to playing that level. She had so much success because she is an athlete. She had a lot of growing to do volleyball wise, but her athleticism made up for it,” Walker said.
This year she will be called upon to provide more offense.
“Payton has figured out her role this year has to be more than just a freshman playing varsity. She’s moving to the outside for us and she’s going to be relied on heavily to score some points for us. She is a six-rotation player now and her attack from the back row will score for us as well. She’s matured quite a bit volleyball-wise and had a great spring and summer off season. Our main thing for Payton is rising to the challenge of being the dynamic player she wants and can be,” Kincaid said.
Robinson will lead a strong returning senior group that includes Megan Vest, Shelby Kurtz and Karli Wolfe. Robinson will be in the middle after leading the team in blocks last year with 17. Vest will play outside and middle. She missed time last year due to a broken finger. Kurtz led the Lady Lakers with 276 digs, and will play libero and defensive specialist. Wolfe will look bounce back as a right side this year after suffering a knee injury last season.
Junior Olivia Whittle also returns to the varsity lineup as a libero or defensive specialist.
Seniors Clare Holmes and Aubree Enos along with junior Jackie White will be new players to the varsity equation. Holmes will be a setter, Enos a defensive specialist and White a middle hitter.
Camdenton will look to take advantage of a tall lineup this season.
“Our biggest strength this year is going to be our height. We always tell the girls we can’t teach you to be tall. So now we are working on using that to our advantage. We’ve also got girls who have put the time in the off-season to get better. We’ve got multiple kids who can play multiple positions so we’ve had to keep things competitive this summer and those kids who’ve put in a good club season have definitely shined,” Walker said.
The Lady Lakers will need to be more consistent to be successful this season.
“The biggest hurdle we have to face is consistency and the ability to finish a set. We were in so many games this summer where we just couldn’t finish the set due to inconsistent passing or hitting. I believe that comes with time and the mentality that you can do that,” Walker said.
Camdenton will be looking for a second straight season above .500 for the first time since finishing with a winning record back-to-back in 2009 and 2010.
“I have very high expectations for this group of girls. They’ve said they want to accomplish things that we have not done in a while and I feel like they are willing to work to get there. We have to continually push ourselves to get better and not settle for being just okay at times. We are really going to push them out of their comfort zone a lot in preseason to see how they respond. I’m excited for another year of Laker volleyball,” Walker said.
Camdenton will host a jamboree on Aug. 27 with Marshfield, Smith-Cotton and Jefferson City. The Lady Lakers open the season on Sept. 3 at Eldon.