The start of the academic school year also brings about the beginning of fall sports for prep programs including volleyball.
Teams were able to officially hold tryouts and start practices on August 1. One program eager to begin its 2016 campaign is Holy Innocents’ which won the state championship for the third consecutive year. The Golden Bears, who won 33 matches last season, are back on the court with a new roster following the graduation of eight seniors and a new state classification, moving down to Class A.
“We had several girls play beach volleyball this summer which has picked up interest,” Holy Innocents’ head coach Taylor Noland said. “Other players were also able to travel to different places to play. We’re excited about the new season. We’re young but having three seniors on the roster will help out with leadership. ”
The Golden Bears return four players including senior libero Amelia Rempe, junior Tyler Dobson at setter, sophomore Ashley Mathison moving to the middle position and junior Kate Chesser. Even with the large turnover in the roster, Holy Innocents’ still has aspirations to make another long run towards a state title.
“Our offseason has gone well,” Rempe said. “Team chemistry and bonding has always been important because the skill set is there but us working as a team has propelled us to victory. That helps us to have a cohesive court and trust each other. Our attitude and mindset is in the right place with a lot of new people ready to work. We’re going to work on our passing because it gives you a strong base to run a more complicated offense.”
“I don’t believe in rebuilding and don’t like that term,” Noland said. “I’ve felt we’ve built the program over the past six seasons. We’re always going to be in the gym working hard with a really good group of core athletes. We don’t dwell on what’s happened in past seasons. This is a whole new group with hungry athletes.”
Holy Innocents’ opening matches on Wednesday at home against Pace Academy and Marist.
“We’ll continue to work on defense and serve receive because that’s always been our strongest points and focus on not letting the ball hit the floor.”
Joining the Golden Bears in Class A this season will be Wesleyan which won 27 matches last season and advances to the Class 2A state semifinals. The Wolves return several starters including All-State performers in senior setter Abbey Gritters and senior Audrey Mangum at libero. Senior middle Noni Thompkins, junior setter Maddie Lloyd, junior defensive specialist Kat Hughes, senior outside Olivia Jordan and junior middle Elizabeth Bruehl will also be major contributors for Wesleyan this season.
“The move to Class A actually presents a much tougher road to the state finals with at least a dozen teams that have to be considered legitimate contenders,” Wolves’ head coach Ted Russell said. “We return a lot of experience from last year's team. The return of Natalie Armstrong and the growth of our younger players give us much more competition at each spot and greater flexibility in matching up with various teams.”
Wesleyan opens its season on Saturday at home against Chattahoochee.
Another program looking forward to this upcoming season is Pace Academy which won 22 matches and made the state playoffs last season. The Knights move up to Class 3A and return a veteran roster with six seniors including outside hitter/middle Summer Brown and setter Meghan Botsch.
“We have a very strong senior class that can all contribute which should give us very solid leadership throughout the season,” Pace Academy head coach Anna Bush said. “Our freshman class is probably the most talented one we’ve ever had and very excited about their potential. Add to this some very talented and dedicated sophomores and we have all the ingredients for a great season. Staying healthy, having a good team dynamic and peaking at the right time will be very important in the extent of our success.”
The Knights also open its season against Holy Innocents’ on Wednesday.
Several programs open its season with new head coaches including Lovett, which made a run to the Class 2A state finals last season. The Lions welcome in Katie Johnson who was previously the head coach at Cambridge High School in Milton. Lovett, which moves up to Class 3A, visits Galloway on Thursday for its first match of the season.