By Chris Parker
Aurora entered the district tournament last year as the No. 3 seed, but that did not stop the Lady Houns from marching to a second consecutive district title by upsetting No. 2 Seneca and No. 1 Mt. Vernon.
“Our team focused on the aspect that district was to win and keep going or lose and go home. We knew all the teams at that time were playing well – our girls really just pushed and focused on what they had to do to win,” Aurora head coach Skye Wade said.
All-state selection Julia McVey was the only senior on that team who saw time in a majority of the sets last year. The returning athletes learned a lot from the district championship run and two-set sectional loss to eventual state champion Rogersville.
“Postseason experience has helped show our athletes what type of level they would like to play at. The athletes have worked extremely hard this summer and have pushed each other both physically and mentally,” Wade said.
Brooke Bellamy will be a senior leader for Aurora. She was second on the team with 221 kills last year. She led the team in blocks with 26. She also had 159 digs and 156 serve-receives in 2018.
“Brooke is athletic. Her athleticism allows her to get to areas to be big at the net. Coming into her senior year I have seen Brooke grow as an attacking leader and wanting the ball more often to make something happen. (I am) excited to see what she will bring to the court,” Wade said. “Brooke transitioned to a six-rotation player last season. Her defense back row is going to be one of her strong suits to add to the front row tenacity she will bring.”
The offense will run through sophomore Gabi McVey. McVey earned all-conference honors as a freshman setter with 522 assists last year.
“Gabi is a fantastic setter. Even being as young as she is she has a high IQ of the game of volleyball. This allows her to be coached in a way that usually only upperclassmen are coached,” Wade said. “Gabi has grown in the off-season by taking more ownership of the offenses and the calls that are made. I am excited to see the connections she has been making with our hitters.”
Senior Kortney Juracek gives Aurora a third returning all-conference player. Juracek is a primary passer for Aurora after she led the team with 373 serve-receives and 293 digs.
“Kortney has a calmness but spunky personality and I think that shows on the court. At times she is controlled and ready defensively and at others, she is able to pull the spunky out to go after ball defensively,” Wade said. “We will be looking for Kortney for composure this season. She has really grown into this role and I am excited to see how she continues to take on the leadership role of libero.”
Other key returning varsity players this year are: Sommer Gatewood (senior defensive specialist), Belle Marquier (junior middle), Olivia Gibson (junior outside), Brookelynn Sandoval (junior right side) and Hannah Hudson (sophomore middle).
Hannah Hudson played in three varsity sets last year as a freshman. She will see more varsity time at the net blocking this year.
“Our biggest strength is when we work together and become united in everything we do. We would like to focus on being ‘unstoppable’ in moments on the court – gaining experience throughout the season for it to all come together,” Wade said.
Aurora will travel to Carthage on Tuesday, Aug. 27 for a jamboree with the host Lady Tigers, Joplin and Nevada. The Lady Houn’ Dawgs will open the regular season on Sept. 3 at home against Lamar.