By Chris Parker
Branson volleyball had a breakout year last season posting a 29-6 overall record. The Pirates will have a new head coach this year in Francie McBride.
McBride had a successful 23-year run at Winona where she helped lead the Wildcats to 14 final four appearances and five state titles.
Leaving Winona was not an easy choice for McBride.
“Making the move from Winona after 23 years where I’ve had so much success and built my reputation and that program wasn’t an easy decision. I have had other opportunities over the years and it was just never the right time or fit for me, but this all just seemed to fall into place. My son plays basketball at College of the Ozarks and will be a sophomore this coming year so that definitely factored into the decision, but I just felt like at this point in my career I wanted a new challenge and this was the time to and the place,” McBride said. “Branson has a reputation of being an excellent school district, and I feel very blessed to have been welcomed into the area and school so warmly. I am very grateful for all of my years in Winona and feel so fortunate to be able to be inducted personally as well as with my program at Winona into the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame this fall, what a storybook ending to my time there.”
She will look to keep the success of last season going for Branson. McBride will have to replace the production of eight graduated seniors. Seven of those seniors played in all 77 sets last season.
Morgan LeBlanc will be a team leader in her senior season after earning second-team all-conference honors as a junior. She is the only returning player that played in every varsity set last year. LeBlanc led the Pirates in kills (244) and aces (49) while finishing runner-up on the team in digs (262) and serve-receives (232).
“Morgan LeBlanc is a special kid. Morgan has such great court awareness and is an outstanding athlete. Watching a match you will easily be able to tell who she is because she brings such a strong court presence,” McBride said. “Her strength is one of her greatest assets. She’s obviously a strong offensive weapon at the net but she also utilizes her strength in all areas of her game. Morgan is very versatile and capable of playing any position at the net and is a stellar defensive player as well. I look for her to do great things again this season as well as being a solid leader for this team.”
Senior Kierstyn Harmon will take over setting duties this season.
“She’s been a great leader for this fairly young group so far, very vocal and solid in all areas of her game, and she brings great energy,” McBride said. “I’ve been really impressed with her athleticism and her ability and look forward to seeing what impact she will make this fall.”
Senior Emily Prosser will see time at middle and right side. Quinn Swofford saw time as a freshman last year and will see an expanded role this season.
Juniors Eden Switzer (defense) and Kayli Thomas (middle blocker) are two more players to watch at the varsity level.
The COVID-19 pandemic has added another layer of difficulty for McBride to the already tough task of taking over a new program.
“This has definitely been an interesting year navigating the complications and changes we are all experiencing with COVID. I know as a coach transitioning to a new school with a whole new group of kids all this has been frustrating at times. I was so anxious to meet my girls and start working with them as soon as possible. All of that was of course delayed some, but ultimately we were able to have a summer full of workouts and court time and that’s all that matters. I think we are all just feeling blessed to have had an opportunity to be in the gym working and learning and to be able to participate in our seasons. I know I have come to appreciate every moment we have had in the gym,” McBride said.
Branson opens the season with its home invitational tournament on Aug. 29.