By Chris Parker
Branson volleyball enters Year Two under coach Kailey Bridges as a more experienced squad.
“The biggest difference in this year vs. last year is the experience. We have eight seniors that all lettered as juniors and they all know what is expected each day at practices. They are usually self-motivated and disciplined, so our practices just run more fluidly,” Bridges said.
That group went 17-15 overall last season.
A lot of that experience returns in the form of hitting with Branson returning its top three hitters in terms of kills from last year. Jaden Moore (senior – 143 kills), Morgan Leblanc (junior – 141 kills) and Annie Graber (senior – 131 kills) all eclipsed the 130-kill mark. Moore will be in the middle Leblanc on the outside and Graber could be in the middle or outside.
“Returning three strong hitters will be very beneficial for our offense. Jaden is consistent, and seems to be hungrier than previous seasons. Her hitting efficiency was near .500 all summer, and she has gotten more court aware and more competitive since last year. Morgan and Annie will provide us some other great options and I feel that our hitters complement each other well,” Bridges said.
Senior Grace Dean returns to guide the offense at setter after posting a 584-assist season last year.
“Grace Dean is a spectacular leader,” Bridges said. “She is very court smart and provides great support to her teammates.”
Keaton Wilcynski (libero), Kayli Nimmo (defensive specialist), Alli Hawkins (defensive specialist), Jordyn Schwartz (right side/defensive specialist) and Mia Leblanc (setter/defensive specialist) give Bridges a strong quartet of seniors to lean on. Wilcynski has already broke the career dig record at Branson with 705 and counting.
Juniors Emily Prosser (right side) and Kierstyn Harmon (setter) along with sophomore Kayli Thomas (middle hitter) will vie for varsity time. Thomas is the lone underclassmen expected to compete for varsity playing time heading into the season.
Branson volleyball will go as the seniors go this year.
“Our biggest strength is our senior presence and leadership. If they can overcome a few things that they struggled with as a team last season as far as their mental game, they will be great competitors this season. They have all been working hard during the off-season and summer, and I’ve seen their numbers increase in the weight room and in the gym since May. They have done an amazing job at teaching our freshmen what Branson Volleyball expectations are as well. As a coaching staff, we expect them to be more confident and more competitive than last season so their mental game can catch up with their physical game,” Bridges said.
Branson opens the season on Sept. 3 at home against the defending Class 1 State Champion Rogersville Lady Wildcats.