By Chris Parker
Pierce City won five total matches in both 2017 and 2018 before breaking out with a 21-win season last year.
The Eagles will have a new head coach in 2013 graduated Krishna Merriman this season. It will be her first year as a head coach at the high school level.
“I’m actually a PC alumni so once the position became available, it was an easy decision to return,” Merriman said. “I lived there practically my entire life and had a very successful athletic career there myself in volleyball, basketball and track and then graduated from PC in 2013 and my assistant Amber Wagner played with me at Pierce City and graduated from PC in 2015.”
The Pierce City volleyball program is well-positioned for success this year with three all-conference players returning in seniors Leslie Jones (first-team) and Katie Tindell (second-team) along with Storie Linn (honorable mention).
Jones and Tindell were the team’s top two hitters posting 183 and 140 kills, respectively, last year. Both will be outside hitters with Jones playing all six rotations.
“Katie Tindell and Leslie Jones both bring lots of experience at the varsity level and excellent leadership. They’re always looking to improve their game as hitters and they continuously push themselves to get better. Leslie is a key outside, while also being a threat out of the backrow and Katie is a powerful outside as well, which is amazing to have such two strong hitters like that,” Merriman said. “I have high expectations for them both. I expect that they will lead the team in all they do this season, not only on the floor but also as leaders and setting examples for the rest of the girls.”
Linn will be the team’s libero this year. She led Pierce City in both digs (330) and serve-receives (550) last year.
“Storie Linn is our leader when it comes to defense. She gives it all she’s got and getting better daily and she will be a major threat to other teams during season. I’m very excited for the potential that she has,” Merriman said. “Storie’s growth has already been tremendous. Like I said, she gets better and better every day and that’s not only in her physical skills, but also her mental game as well and that’s a very big step in the right direction for her.”
The Gripka sisters including Madison (senior middle), Riley (junior setter) and Hailey (sophomore middle) will also be assets for Pierce City this year.
Hailey gives Pierce City a third returning player who had at least 100 kills last year. She was third on the team with 116. Riley was fourth in kills (93) and Madison fifth in kills (73) last year. Hailey led the team in blocks at 29. Riley led Pierce City in aces with 48 and was second in assists at 220.
“Madison Gripka will also be an asset to our team. She’s a very smart middle who works incredibly hard and her court awareness will be an awesome tool for us this year,” Merriman said. “Her sisters, Riley and Hailey will also be really big assets for us this year. Riley will be my varsity setter and Hailey will be my other middle and their athleticism and hustle will absolutely be other weapons for us.”
Madison Tindell saw just one varsity set last year as a freshman, but will be a key piece on the varsity level this year on the right side.
“I can’t wait to see how she grows, her improvement this year has already been phenomenal and having a tall right side will only be a huge plus for us,” Merriman said.
Two players stepping up from junior varsity are defensive specialist sophomores Jillian Mack and Macy Fenske.
“I’m very excited about the potential that both of them hold. Being young on varsity can be quite the step up but both of them have rose to the challenge really well and just continue to improve their game. Having these two girls, plus Storie, will make for an absolutely amazing back row,” Merriman said.
Merriman will have to prepare for longer matches this year as Missouri is going from a best-of-three format for matches to best-of-five.
“I’m really excited about the change from three sets to five. I wish this would’ve been changed over when I was in high school honestly,” Merriman said. “There is some concern from the smaller schools about how much junior varsity will be able to be played, simply because sometimes a lot of the girls will play both and that can make it difficult when a varsity games goes a full five sets. Not to mention, will take a long time if they do go the full five. That can be an extensive amount of time so I am a little worried about some really late nights, but I’m sure things will get figured out.”
Pierce City will open the season on Aug. 31 at home against Wheaton.
“I have extremely high expectations for us this year. I’ve seen the potential that we have when we’re all clicking together and it’s phenomenal,” Merriman said. “Our challenge will definitely to be more consistent, but if we can get that down then I truly believe that we will have a very successful season. I definitely have my sights set on post-season play and the girls do too.”