By Chris Parker
Camdenton volleyball won 20 matches for the first time since 2010 last year by going 23-11-3 overall. The Lady Lakers finished as district runner-up to Willard.
They return a strong group of players this year looking to take the next step and win a district title.
“We’ve got to continue to improve each practice and each game,” Camdenton head coach Austin Walker said. “For this group, it’s a mentality that has to be put in place. We’ve got some athletes and some kids with some great skills but its overcoming the idea that they cannot compete with those programs that have a rich tradition. In order to get to the state tournament we have to go through the teams like Willard, Nixa, Ozark, etc.”
Sydney Smith returns as a versatile weapon for Camdenton. The senior setter/outside hitter earned first-team all-conference honors after she led Camdenton in assists (342) and aces (56) while finishing second in kills (204).
“Sydney is a great student of the game. She is always looking to make her team better and improve her skills individually. She just loves the game of volleyball and has worked a lot at it. She is great a pushing others to be better,” Walker said. “Sydney is entering her third year of being on the floor for six rotations. She will be expected to be a great leader for us. She will lead our team both on and off the court by example because that is just who she is.”
Middle hitter Jackie White also returns after earning first-team all-conference honors as a junior. White led Camdenton in total blocks with 59 while finishing fourth in kills at 135.
“Jackie has come a long way in a few years. Her work ethic is contagious in our gym. She has put herself in a position to be successful and she has matured so much over the past year. She has the best blocking form in the gym and she is pushing herself as a middle to get more involved in the offense. She is fired up and ready to get going this fall,” Walker said.
Second-team all-conference selections Olivia Whittle and Payton Kincaid round out the returning all-conference players for Camdenton. Whittle, a senior libero, led Camdenton with 268 digs last season. Kincaid, a junior middle/outside hitter, put down 156 kills last year giving Camdenton three returning players that accounted for at least 100 kills in 2019.
“Olivia worked her way into the libero spot halfway through season last year. Her ball control and ability to react/read the hitters has improved tremendously. She gets her hands on a lot of balls and puts us in a position to be a force on offense. She has worked hard this spring even when we weren’t in school to make herself better,” Walker said. “(Kincaid) has gotten more confident since last fall. She started as a freshman for us and has found her place on the floor over the summer. She is athletic and can hit from anywhere on the court.”
Junior setter Elle Turner rounds out the returning players for Camdenton. She was second on the team with 155 assists last year.
“Elle is a setter who plays great defense for us. She is a gamer that thrives under pressure. She has done a great job this summer working on her connection with her hitters,” Walker said.
Seniors Miranda Hadfield (outside hitter), Brooklyn Stidham (defensive specialist) and Delaney VanBuren (right side) along with junior Mya Hulett (middle/right side) will be new players to watch for on the varsity level.
“This group of kids has continually improved each year they’ve been in our program,” Walker said. “They are competitors who want to put themselves and this program at the top. We always make it a goal to finish in the top three of the Ozark Conference, and now that we have a taste of what it’s like playing for a district title, they want to win it all. We have to compete each game and gain confidence as we move throughout our competitive conference schedule and towards post season play. It’s going to be an exciting season for us and I’m ready to see where all the pieces fit.”
Camdenton opens the season on Sept. 1 at home against Eldon.