By Chris Parker
Southwest volleyball faced the new challenge of the SWCL last year after moving over from the Ozark 7 Conference. The Lady Trojans finished 10-19-1 overall and 3-4 in conference.
“It was different playing in a new conference and we finished 3-4. I think it will take time to establish rivalries like we had in the Ozark 7, but we have played teams like Blue Eye and Galena for years (in volleyball), so we already have a little history with them,” Southwest Head Coach Steve Voyak said.
Voyak’s team must replace a group of five seniors that included All-SWCL Second-Team selection Mariah Munday. Munday led the team in kills and digs.
“The five seniors – Mariah Munday, Heather Windes, Maggie Robbins, Lacey Reeves and Jacey Ball – were a group of overachievers and players who fit into roles well. They led by example. Mariah signed to play at Ozark Christian College in Joplin,” Voyak said.
This year, Southwest returns three letter-winners in Khloe Holder, Bonnie Robbins and Karma Romine. All three are juniors. Olivia Ayer will also be a factor after only playing in one game as a freshman due to injuries. Robbins and Holder are both coming off injuries as well.
“Khloe was cleared and played all summer, but still has a ways to go. Olivia was cleared July 1 and will be ready to go when practice starts Aug. 12. Bonnie is a question mark. She will miss some of the season, but were not sure just how much. She does love volleyball, so I know she is working as hard as she can because she wants to play. She came to a lot of our summer workouts even though she could not participate. She’s really dedicated,” Voyak said.
Robbins and Holder were second and third on the team last year in kills with 103 and 77, respectively. Both players are outside hitters.
Sarah Terry will be the only senior on the team this year. Voyak will also be looking for leadership from junior Brylee Wilson.
“Brylee did a nice job last season when all the injuries hit and stepped and played some front row. We liked her on the right side, so now we are looking at her as full-time setter. She’s athletic and smart,” Voyak said.
Sophomores Shelbie Pendergraft, Harleigh Jester and Amy Reeves along with freshmen Emily Wilson, Jackie Quintinilla and Anna Church will also vie for varsity time.
“Our strength has to be our youth, energy and work ethic. We also could have a good serving team from 1-6 if the girls continue to improve,” Voyak said. “Our weaknesses are more obvious: lack of size (no players over 5-foot-6), speed, inexperience, hitters that can consistently kill the ball, serve reception (all players in serve reception this season have never done it at the varsity level), passing consistency.”
Voyak, who has won 224 matches in his career, hopes his undersized team can use skill, smarts and depth to have a successful season this year.
“We understand other teams are not going to be intimidated when we walk into the gym. We will have to out work, out smart and out play most of our opponents. The good news is we averaged 20 players at summer workouts and that doesn’t count three other players injured and another who was taking college classes and couldn’t participate,” Voyak said. “We could have 25 players in the fall when workouts start Aug. 12. We have girls who care about volleyball and want to spend time in the gym to get better. I also think the combination of the girls coming back from injury and the new players trying to prove themselves will make the team hungrier than usual to compete on a higher level. Our goal is be competitive in the SWCL and the three tournaments we play in and to peak at the end of the season and make a run at districts time.”
Southwest will travel to Purdy on Tuesday, Aug. 27 for a jamboree with the host Lady Eagles, Cassville and Hurley. The Lady Trojans open the regular season on Friday, Aug. 30 at Gentry (Ark.).