By Chris Parker
Diamond volleyball enters Year Two of the Britany Cheek era. The Lady Wildcats won seven matches in Cheek’s first year as head coach.
Familiarity with Cheek and her expectations has led to a smoother off-season and summer this year.
“I think familiarity is the biggest difference. At this time last year I was trying to get a grasp on the program, the players and deciding how things needed to be done. And the players were trying to get used to me. This summer, all expectations are known and the players are surer of my methods,” Cheek said.
Cheek will have a strong weapon to lean on this season in senior Hadyn Russow. Russow led the team with 159 kills last season. She earned Second-Team All-Southwest Conference honors for her efforts.
She will shoulder more of a leadership role this season.
“Hadyn has grown into more of a leader. She will take on more responsibility this year transitioning from just a three rotation front row player to a six rotation player,” Cheek said. “She will be our go to on the outside as well as a strong server for us. She has learned to control her swing and mix up her shots.”
Diamond returns two strong setting options in seniors Emily Valdez and Emily Moore. Valdez led the team with 264 assists last year while Moore tallied 191 assists. Valdez also led the team in aces with 35.
“Having two strong setters allows us to have the option of three hitters on the front row at all times. Emily Valdez will be a six rotation player, while Emily Moore will just come in the back row and set,” Cheek said.
Seniors Jae Cowen, Loran Atnip and Savannah Divine return for their senior seasons. Atnip and Cowen were forces at the net last year with 43 and 41 blocks, respectively. Divine is back after an ACL injury cut her junior year short.
The senior trio of McKaley Grenniger (libero), Drew Engler (right side) and Grace Irwin (defensive specialist) will be new to the varsity rotation. That trio combined with the returning players gives Cheek a strong group of seniors to lean on this season.
“This year our expectations are high. We have a team full of upperclassmen who want to win and will work hard to achieve that. We have eight seniors and one junior in the lineup this year and they know what the potential is if they will work hard to get there. Our goal is to be in the top half of conference, contend for a district championship and get some big wins in our tournaments,” Cheek said.
Diamond will travel to McDonald County on Aug. 27 for a jamboree with the host Lady Mustangs and Monett. Diamond opens the regular season on Sept. 3 at home against Monett.