By Chris Parker
Willow Springs has a new head coach in Haylee Pitts this year. Pitts served as an assistant last year.
“I was the assistant coach under Coach (Megan) James last year and got to work with this group of girls and saw how much talent and potential they have. They are great athletes, but also great kids. I knew if we could improve on areas we struggled with last year, we could be a pretty competitive team. I was excited about the idea of getting the program back to what it has been in past years,” Pitts said.
The Bears won just five matches last season, but had back-to-back 20-win seasons prior to that.
“We must work together as a team and try to eliminate all the little mistakes and the mental errors. Consistency and mental toughness will be key for us. We have a lot of talent and athleticism, so we just have to put it all together now,” Pitts said.
Pitts will have a lot of experience to work with after last year’s team had just one senior.
“I think the biggest benefit of this is that all of the girls have a full year of playing with each other and learned how to communicate with each other and trust one another on the court. Some of the girls had to step into leadership roles last season and I have seen that carry over into this year’s team as well,” Pitts said.
Seniors Tessa Duddridge, Kassidy Brotherton and Chyann Watts along with junior Allyssa Von Allmen all return after earning all-conference selections last year.
“These girls are aware of the very high expectations I have for them and the high standards they are held to. They have proven to be some of my most consistent players and have all shown leadership qualities in the offseason,” Pitts said.
Duddridge was the team’s libero last year leading Willow Springs in both digs (334) and serve-receives (389). Brotherton accounted for 371 of Willow Springs’s 393 assists last year and will return to setter this year. Watts will return to the middle block after leading the team with 153 kills last year while accruing 22 blocks last year. Von Allmen will be coming off a shoulder injury that kept her out much of the off-season. She was second on the team in kills with 134 last season.
The senior trio of Emily Daniels (right side), Zoe Kimbrough (defensive specialist) and Kenzie Cox (outside hitter) along with sophomore Ashlyn Jones (setter) will return to the varsity lineup.
Sophomores Liz Sheehan (outside hitter/defensive specialist) and Hailey Sigman (middle hitter) along with junior Marissa Daniels (defensive specialist) will move up to varsity this year. Sheehan missed her freshman year with a torn ACL.
Expectations are high for Willow Springs with such a deep group of players returning.
“I have high expectations for our program this year. We have worked on some different things in the off-season that I believe will really benefit the team and get us back on the right track. We have the talent and skill to do great things, and with consistent communication and mental toughness, we have the potential to turn some heads this season,” Pitts said.
Willow Springs travels to Cabool on Aug. 27 to face the host Bulldogs, Houston and MV-BT Liberty in a jamboree. The Lady Bears open the regular season on Sept. 3 at home against Hillcrest.