Photos by Kevin Nagle
All-state setter Britney Sahlmann and all-conference players Mercedes Dillard, Abby Staton, Allie Anderson and Whitney Brown will lead the Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team into their unofficial 2014 debut on Thursday when the team competes in a pre-season benefit jamboree at Benton.
The Lady Hornets will take on Pulaski Academy at 5:30 p.m., in Cook Fieldhouse. Each match will be played to 25 or for 25 minutes, whichever comes first. They’ll follow up with a match against 7A/6A-Central Conference rival Mount St. Mary Academy at 6 in Cook. After a break, they’ll face Little Rock Christian at 7:30 in the fieldhouse before moving to Benton Arena for a match against Malvern at 8 p.m., and Benton at 9.
On Saturday, Aug. 23, the team will participate in the annual Bryant Showcase with a pair of Blue-White scrimmages at noon and 2:40 p.m. The Showcase, featuring the entire Bryant volleyball program, begins at 10 a.m., with a Bryant Middle School seventh grade scrimmage. At 10:40, the Bryant Middle School eighth grade team will scrimmage followed by the freshman scrimmage at 11:20. After the first high school scrimmage at noon, the Bethel Middle School seventh grade team will take the floor at 12:40 p.m., followed at 1:20 by the Bethel eighth grade at 1:20. At 2, the freshman team will scrimmage the high school junior varsity with the varsity returning to wrap up the day at 2:40.
The Lady Hornets make their official 2014 debut on Tuesday, Aug. 26, at Fountain Lake then travel to Rogers Heritage on Thursday, Aug. 28, before opening play in the new Central Conference at Greenwood on Thursday, Sept. 4.
“That’ll give us a good gauge, to see where we’re at,” said interim head coach Lawrence Jefferson, referring to the pre-conference slate.
Jefferson, who has served as an assistant basketball and soccer coach at Bryant the last two years, has taken over the coaching duties for Beth Solomon, who is due to give birth soon.
Jefferson coached junior high volleyball at Arkadelphia (2007-2012) and Russellville (2000-2006) in the past.
Asked about the team’s off-season work, he related, “It was a good summer. They worked hard all summer long. We had 6 a.m. practice to beat the heat. They showed up all the time unless they had a family commitment or something. We did a weight program this summer and a lot of them increased by 20 or 30 pounds on squats; some of them 20, 25 on the bench and incline. They’ve done really good. They’ve worked hard.
“We went to three team camps, UALR, Arkansas Tech and Benton,” he continued. “At Benton, we only lost two sets out of, I think, 10 sets. That’s pretty good. At UALR, we came in second behind Russellville and Russellville’s really good this year. We struggled a little bit at Tech. I think that’s due to having a new coach.”
The team includes Staton, a three-year starter, along with Dillard and fellow seniors Madison Greeno, Nikki Clay, Rylee Phillips and Mariah Aguilar. Sahlmann, Brown and Anderson are juniors along with Savannah Shelton, Shayla McKissock, Kendall Selig, Dejai Kelley, Kaci Squires and Skylar Harper.
All of those players got significant playing time last year on a team will no seniors.
New to the team are sophomores Sarah Kennedy, Megyn Kuchinski, Riley Hill, Alex Dillard, Shaelyn Smith, Emily Clem, Kasey Ward, Reagan Blend and Elle Rottman.
Asked what he expects from the team in the jamboree on Thursday, Jefferson said, “I want to see them compete every play, every ball, stay focused on the ball, get better every match. I want them to look within themselves and say, ‘This is what I’m doing wrong as an individual. How can I help the team?’”
For the complete Lady Hornets’ schedule, go here.