By Chris Parker
Cassville volleyball has a new head coach in Paige Huddleston this year. She has previous coaching experience at the club level. Huddleston moved to Cassville last February, and she jumped at the opportunity to take over the Cassville volleyball program.
“Cassville has become our home throughout this past year, so when I learned about the job, I felt it was meant to be,” Huddleston said. “I have been in the gym since I was little, always with a volleyball in my hand, and after playing high level club ball and in college I felt it was my time to give back to the sport that has given me so much.”
She takes over a program that went 16-16-1 last year. The 16 wins were the most since 2017. Gone from that team are three graduated players who earned postseason honors.
There is still plenty of returning experience for the Lady Cats with six players back from last year’s varsity team.
Emerson Grossman earned honorable mention all-conference honors as a sophomore after she finished second on the team with 227 kills.
“Emerson is growing into a solid six-rotation player and is learning how to embrace her role as a leader on our court. Based on game film I watched from last season, she is developing her passing and defensive skills as well as expanding her net play to multiple front row positions,” Huddleston said. “Emerson is a very versatile player and has the ability to handle any role I give her. We will predominately use her on the outside this season, but she could see the middle or opposite depending on our opponents’ weapons.”
Dulce Rivera is the team’s lone returning senior. She is a versatile player who saw action in 81 of 94 sets last year. She was third on the team with 235 serve receptions.
“She (Rivera) can fill any role for us and brings experience and high energy wherever she’s at on the court,” Huddleston said. “Her communication on the floor helps her be a mentor for her teammates.”
Four juniors in Madison Halterman, Hailey Roark, Pazlee Burbridge and Audrey Gosvener also return.
Huddleston on Halterman: “Madison Halterman is returning as a junior and is stepping in as a setter or opposite hitter/blocker. Her court awareness and knowledge of the game have proven to be an asset to her teammates on the court.”
Huddleston on Roark: “Hailey Roark is returning as a junior and benefits us as a utility player with her capability to play anywhere across the net or help in the back row when needed. She will primarily see outside and middle time for us this season.”
Huddleston on Burbridge: “Pazlee Burbridge is retuning as a junior and will be an asset for us as a middle blocker or potentially outside hitter. She will make a vast impact with her instinctive net play.”
Huddleston on Gosvener: “Audrey Gosvener is returning as a junior. She is continuing to develop as a six-rotation player on the outside. She could also see time as a DS as her passing skills expand.”
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Junior Madelyn Holtmann, sophomore Makaiden Bolles and freshman Emma Pryor will look to contribute on varsity this year.
Huddleston on Holtman: “She is a unique player that stands out because of her hard work and dedication to improve her skills. She will have an impact on our floor as a defensive specialist.”
Huddleston on Bolles: “She is stepping into the role of middle blocker and although untested, her determination to improve will make her a key player for our team.”
Huddleston on Pryor: “Emma Pryor, an incoming freshman, is an uncut diamond with infinite potential. Her court awareness and hustle make her a standout as a setter.”
Cassville will roll out a versatile lineup that will look to improve mental toughness.
“Depth and versatility (will be strengths). We have multiple options in every position as well as many adaptable players that can play in more than one position. This unique dynamic gives us options when playing different types of teams with differing offenses,” Huddleston said. “Mental toughness (needs to improve). Volleyball is a game of short bursts so the ability to bounce back in the lows and stay focused and aggressive in the highs is critical.”
Cassville will travel to McDonald County on Aug. 23 for a jamboree with the host Mustangs, Lamar and Cassville. The Lady Cats will open the regular season on Aug. 27 at the Branson tournament.