By Chris Parker
Hillcrest volleyball has a strong core of talent in place that is looking to improve on last season’s 3-25-2 record.
That talent is led by sophomore Tori McCullough who earned second-team all-conference honors as a freshman. McCullough, a libero, led the Hornets in digs (394) and serve-receives (385) last season.
“Tori is relentless in her pursuit of the ball in the backcourt. She has been playing school and club volleyball for several years, so her knowledge of the game goes deep. Her ability to read the game ahead of time, and her effective communication with her teammates made her super successful at the varsity level as a freshman,” Hillcrest head volleyball coach Deirdre Smith said. “Her volleyball IQ just keeps growing. She worked hard training through the spring on her own, and continued that through our summer training.”
Five seniors also return for Hillcrest this year including: Macy Baker (outside hitter), Cassidy Pentecost (setter/right side hitter), Taneisha Davis (outside hitter), Ashlynn VanHorn (defensive specialist), and Audrey Fountain (Middle hitter/outside hitter).
Baker is the leading returning hitter after putting down 102 kills last year. Pentecost led the team with 173 assists in 2019.
“Macy brings a big swing from the outside, and will prove successful there, and as a leader on the court,” Smith said. “Cassidy Pentecost returns as one of our setters and right side hitters. Cassidy’s role is big as she is one of three people who holds a six-rotation position.”
Junior Chloe Sutherland is a returning middle hitter/blocker. She led the team in blocks with 35 last year. Sophomores Melanie Barrett (defensive specialist) and Mackenzie Smith (setter/right side hitter) also return.
“She (Sutherland) has improved her offensive game throughout the pre-season,” Smith said. “Melanie is quick in her reaction, and she is driven in the backcourt. Mackenzie Smith is a sophomore who is returning as a six-rotation setter and right side hitter. Her volleyball knowledge and her attack from the front row will help our team tremendously this season.”
Bridgette Smith (junior), Avery Marmon (sophomore), Kendra Christman (junior), Lara Temple (junior), and Ashlyn Pentecost (junior) are all new players to watch at the varsity level.
Smith is excited for both what this year and the future could bring for the Hillcrest volleyball program.
“With several players returning to our lineup this fall, I expect us to find greater success on the volleyball court. I tell the girls all the time that the game is always growing, so we should always be learning. They have done such a great job with the changes we have made in our defense, and we will be working harder with our front row players to be more effective hitters, and to improve our block on defense,” Smith said. “We have a large number of athletes that will make up our freshman and junior varsity squad this season. The future of Hillcrest Volleyball looks bright as we have several young athletes that have an amazing amount of talent.”
Hillcrest volleyball opens the season on Sept. 1 at home against Willow Springs.