By Chris Parker
Lebanon volleyball finished 17-15-2 last year, which marked the sixth consecutive season that the Lady Jackets have won at least 17 matches in a season.
This year, Lebanon will have to replace the production of eight graduated seniors including four all-conference selections.
“We lost eight seniors from last year’s team and with four of them being all-conference selections,” Lebanon head coach Jenny Collins said. “We also lost a lot of experience and leadership at the varsity level of play as Avery (Hays), Bailey (Hough) and Ellee (Douglas) were six-rotation players. Having that many seniors means that we have spent much time together and they become a part of your family away from home. Always bittersweet when a group moves on.”
Sydny Leake returns for her senior season after earning second-team all-conference honors last year. Leake was third on the team in kills with 113 last year.
“Sydny saw a few rotations of play her sophomore year and played out of the middle her junior season. Sydny is our lone senior this season and one of our more experienced front row players so she is expected to be a continued force for us at the net this season. She is a great teammate who is unselfish in her play and celebrates the successes of the entire team. She will take on the role given to her whole-heartedly whether that means she is hitting from the pins or out of the middle,” Collins said.
Claire Esther led Lebanon in kills as a freshman with 181. She earned second-team all-conference honors for her efforts and will play outside hitter this year.
“Leading the team in kills as a freshman was unexpected last season due to the number of seniors that were on the team, but senior setter Avery Hays became confident in Claire’s abilities early on and helped assist her in scoring for our team. Claire jumps well and with her height has the ability to hit not just around, but over the block attacking at her highest reach,” Collins said. “This summer Claire has seen time as a six-rotation player and therefore will have a little more weight placed upon her shoulders. In playing the back row, she will see herself in serve receive every rotation and have the opportunity to help communicate with hitters in openings on the opposing court and hopefully this will help guide her as she rotates to the front row. She will also get opportunities to develop as a hitter on the back row.”
Junior Jocee Pettyjohn will be the libero.
“She’s extremely quick, reads well and shows a lot of grit and has a relentless pursuit mindset in playing the ball. She loves to compete,” Collins said.
Six juniors and a sophomore will all look to step up on the varsity level this year. That group includes: juniors Myah Hough (outside hitter), Destiny Zimdars (middle hitter), Karagan Bean (middle hitter), Kylie Paul (junior defensive specialist), Chloe Shivers (setter), Maddie Carr (setter) and sophomore Jaidyn Collins (setter).
Hough will play six rotations this year.
“Myah will be one of our top conditioned athlete and has great potential to be a play maker on the court,” Collins said. “She’s scrappy on defense and not afraid of making a great hustle play. She is also very good about adjusting to sets and mixing up her shots.”
Zimdars and Bean will both be factors at the net.
“(Zimdars) is expected to have a big presence at the net both offensively and defensively. She becomes more confident in her abilities every time she steps on the court,” Collins said. “(Bean) jumps well and we are looking for her to continue to improve as a force within our offense as well as put up a big block.”
Paul will be a defensive force for Lebanon.
“Kylie is shaping up to be a great option anywhere needed on the back row,” Collins said. “As a sophomore she saw some time at the varsity level on the right side filling in for an injured player and did a nice job picking up the off-speed.”
Shivers, Carr and Collins are all in competition for the setter spot.
“They all three have different strengths among them that we are looking to capitalize on,” Collins said. “We will continue to define who will best ‘quarterback’ the team as they cultivate hitter/setter connections with their teammates. Quickness, confidence, assertiveness, handling tough balls at the net and the ability to make split-second-in-game decisions will be important is earning that opportunity.”
Missouri is moving from a best-of-three set format to best-of-five this year. Preparing for that change in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic has provided its own challenges.
“Unfortunately, with the COVID guidelines placed upon us this summer, it has been tough to truly prepare especially to meet the physical demands of a five-set possibility,” Collins said. “But looking forward, I think it is going to give more kids a chance at playing time as it will be a longer match. And if you have a small roster, I think it will be important to keep kids healthy and not over-used. It will make for longer nights during the week and will take away from sleep and academic study time so it will be important for us as coaches to help our athletes balance all of the load placed upon them.”
Lebanon opens the season on Aug. 29 at the Branson Invitational.
“I expect us to be relentless in our defensive efforts. We take a lot of pride in our defense and spend a lot of time being the best defensive team that we can be. We have several players who aren’t afraid of the defensive grind and own the bragging rights of the floor burns and bruises along the way,” Collins said. “With four players at nearly 6’0, we have more height at the net than what we have had in past seasons. We are going to work very hard to work hitter transitions that will help speed up our offense as well as gain confidence in hitter abilities at the net. Overall we are very young in varsity experience and this summer in league play we experienced some bumps along the way, but it is a group of great young kids who aren’t afraid of the challenges that will be placed among them and instead welcome them.”