By Chris Parker
It has been more than a decade since Mt. Vernon volleyball has finished below .500. Don’t expect that streak to be broken this year with a talented group returning from last season’s team that finished 21-10-1.
“We’ve got great kids at Mt. Vernon, kids that know how to work hard, they are multi-sport athletes and are successful in everything they do,” Mt. Vernon head coach Bridgett Schmutz said. “I think that we’ve set a standard of expectations in our program and every year our upperclassmen do a great job of showing the incoming athletes what it takes to meet those expectations. It truly is all about how amazing our kids are.”
Leading the returning players this year is senior setter Lacy Stokes. Stokes, who only started playing volleyball in the eighth grade, earned Class 3 All-State and first-team all-conference honors last year after distributing 632 total assists.
“She (Stokes) is more a crazy, athletic speed demon that can get to any ball on the floor and throw up something hittable for our attackers. She came to volleyball later than most; not playing until her eighth grade year. Has never played a second of club volleyball and setting is such a technical thing, but the thing with Lacy is the harder the ball, the better she makes it. She is steady in that way though, you always know you’re going to get her max effort,” Schmutz said. “Lacy was all-state for us last season which says a lot about her athleticism and skill, but what she is most valuable to our team is that she is the ultimate encourager. She never quits on her teammates, this group of girls value each other and work hard for one another. Lacy leads by example in that way; every drill, every rep, every play. I expect Lacy to keep being Lacy giving us all those things that we’ve grown accustomed to over the last three seasons. She will be a four-year starter for us.”
Stokes will be setting to two returning all-conference hitters in junior Cameryn Cassity (second-team all-conference) and senior Ellie Johnston (honorable mention all-conference). Cassity led the team by putting down 210 kills last year. Johnston was just behind her at 202.
“Ellie and Cam have a lot of similarities,” Schmutz said. “They aren’t big but they are athletic and have some spring about them. Ellie works so well behind our setter, using her basketball game to be really successful with one foot take-offs. She and Lacy have a great connection that can be linked to playing and growing up together. Cam is a competitor, she wants the ball given to her for every rep. She started as a libero when she was young because she was so small but over the last two seasons she has grown in size and in her game across the net. I would describe the two of them as fire and ice. Cam is the flame that gets hotter and more powerful as the game goes on and Ellie is cool and smooth hitting shots and finding different ways to beat you.”
Both Cassity and Johnston are more than just hitters playing all six rotations.
“Ellie and Cameryn are unique in the world of middles,” Schmutz said. “They are undersized across the net but they both play all the way around six rotations. They play middle back defense. Hitters get a lot of the glory in the game of volleyball but what they do defensively for our team is what makes us successful. Cameryn is gritty in the back row. She personifies her personality back there. She will sacrifice her body to make a play. Ellie is much the same with her game in relation to her style. She is smooth; she reads well; she’s in the right place the majority of the time. It’s fun to watch and fun to coach.”
Solai Pham returns for her sophomore year at libero. She led the Mountaineers in digs (288) and serve-receives (355) last season.
“(She) is a like dynamite in a small package,” Schmutz said. “She plays bigger than life. She’s fiery, scrappy, a great passer; everything you want in a libero. She led our team in digs and receptions last year, and we look for her to continue her leadership as one of our top defenders.”
Mt. Vernon will have to replace a group of three graduated seniors in Raelin Swillum, Raegan Prescott and Bethany Williams. The Mountaineers will also be without junior Hailey Eldridge who will miss the season due to injury.
Senior Madalyne Burk will move up from junior varsity with the potential to play several different positions.
“She is as big of a competitor as you will find. She can play in several positions and will be looked to fill a role of one of our 3 graduating seniors. She brings fire to our team every day,” Schmutz said.
Junior Raegan Boswell returns after missing last season with a torn ACL.
“She has worked extremely hard to get ready for this season,” Schmutz said. “She is tough as nails, has great defensive instincts and strong hands. Rae will be looked to jump right back in where she left off before her injury, and we are so excited to have her back.”
Grace Bushman will be transitioning from middle to outside in her junior year.
“She has worked her tail off to step into that (outside) role. Grace is our tallest player with a great reach and does a nice job hitting shots that others can’t. We are so excited to see what Grace will bring to us as the season progresses,” Schmutz said.
Hadley Cornell rounds out the strong junior class for Mt. Vernon.
“Hadley has played in every possible position over the past two seasons,” Schmutz said. “She’s skilled at every aspect of the game. We expect her to fill the shoes of our graduating players and know that she will excel in any and all roles we put her in. She has a wicked serve and great ball control.”
Missouri is switching from best-of-three to best-of-five sets this year. The COVID-19 pandemic didn’t allow as much off-season practice time in the gym, so the Mountaineers worked on the mental side of the game.
“This transition (to five sets) was going to be a big focus for us in the off-season, but COVID has thrown a wrench in all of that. I think our athletes will do what they’ve always done; they will adjust. They are athletic, competitive, disciplined kids,” Schmutz said. “We’ve talked about the idea of looking at every play for what it is: one point broken down into a myriad of skills. Focusing on being our best for every rep and if that means doing it for 3 sets or 5 sets, so be it. Since we couldn’t be in the gym this spring we did a team book study, focusing on the mental side of the game. Playing 3/5 just further solidifies that volleyball is just as much mental as it is physical.”
Mt. Vernon hopes to make a deep postseason run, but more than anything the Mountaineers want to enjoy the time they get together.
“We want to be back in that district championship game. Losing that game last season was heartbreaking, but looking at what happened to our spring sports this past year our team will be thankful to have that opportunity again,” Schmutz said. “Whatever time we get this volleyball season will be a blessing and this group, their chemistry and love for one another is special so we want to play each game like it is our last.”
Mt. Vernon opens the season on Aug. 29 at the Branson tournament.