By Chris Parker
Blue Eye volleyball won a district title last season before falling to Lesterville in the Class 1 state sectional round.
The journey taught the Lady Bulldogs many lessons about success.
“We learned that if we have a goal, a strong work ethic, and trust in our teammates that we are capable and can achieve what we want. It takes team unity, that ‘one team, one dream’ mentality to carry you through the tough times and the great times,” Blue Eye Head Coach Taylor Wittl said.
Getting so close to the Final Four, but coming up short has fueled Blue Eye’s off-season.
“We definitely learned that everything comes to an end whether that be good or bad so we have to seize every opportunity presented in front of us and that is what has been our focus in the offseason, ‘seizing the opportunities’ whether that be in the weight room, drills, scrimmages, or play days, we are taking it all in and bettering ourselves,” Wittl said.
Blue Eye will have the tall task of replacing a five-player senior class that included Co-SWCL Player of the Year Taylor Arnold, First-Team All-SWCL selections Trinity Young and Kenzie Hobbs and honorable mention all-conference honoree Hope Smith.
“They will forever be the group that got Blue Eye their first ever district title,” Wittl said. “No one can take that away from them and they earned that accomplishment with all of their hard work they put in. They have set the bar for others to strive and do better.”
Wittl and her Lady Bulldogs are ready to reload despite the production and leadership lost to graduation.
“I did lose a strong group of girls and I will miss them very much, however I have many other girls that are hungry to do the same, to have a repeat season of district titles, and to go further than before,” Wittl said. “We have a lot of off-season opportunities for girls to come in and work. I have included team bonding activities throughout the summer to strengthen the team chemistry and create that unity I was talking about. The girls I have now are hungry to prove that they are just as able as last year.”
That returning group will be led by senior Kohnnar Patton. Patton was a Second-Team All-SWCL selection last year after finishing second on the team with 229 kills last season.
“Kohnnar is a great athlete and will do well wherever I choose to put her. She will definitely start out the season as my strongest attacker at the net. With her being a senior this year I expect her to not only lead statistically but vocally on the court as well. She will be one that a lot of girls will look to for leadership and I believe she will step up and be the leader we need her to be. She knows this is her last year and she wants to make it the best one yet,” Wittl said.
Riley Arnold returns for her sophomore season. She will fill a libero role this year after playing defensive specialist last season. Her twin Avery will step into the role of setter. Senior Maddie Box will be an outside hitter.
Senior Jaelyn Brown (setter), junior Bailey Owens, sophomore Kyla Warren (middle hitter) and freshman Samantha George are all candidates to fill out the varsity rotation.
How well this group blends together will go a long way in determining the success of Blue Eye volleyball this year.
“Just as every year goes it takes time to adjust to the new team. Every year you graduate girls and you must rebuild that team chemistry because it varies from year to year and that is what we are working on a lot during this off-season,” Wittl said.
The goal will remain to win another district championship and advance deeper into the playoffs.
“We have tasted what it’s like being district champions and to go on to the next round. We have seen what it is like and now we know it is possible. We know it is achievable and we want another taste. We aren’t satisfied with being satisfied,” Wittl said. “We set high expectations for ourselves every year so we can be challenged and work towards those goals we set. Some of those include becoming conference and district champions.”
Blue Eye opens the season on Sept. 3 at home against Cassville.