Smith-Cotton volleyball came close to a district title in 2014.
The Lady Tigers took the first set from Rock Bridge and led the second 23-21 before the Bruins rallied to win that set and the third and with it the district title.
Now, S-C enters 2015 hungry to take the next step.
“I think it takes more intensity throughout the season,” said senior setter and S-C’s All-Time assists leader Courtney Koetting. “Since we got so close last year, that’s our main goal is to get it this year so we’re working really hard.”
The path to that goal began long before the first practice of the fall early this month as the senior class rose into their roles as leaders.
“They started in March, hit the weight room, came to open gym and they’ve been great leaders as far as getting the rest of the kids in here,” said coach Darcia Koetting.
Nine seniors return who saw significant playing time in the past. The Lady Tigers lost Abby Knight, now playing college volleyball at Eastern Illinois, but multiple people are ready to step in to fill the void in the attack.
“Instead of setting most of our balls to one hitter, we have a really diverse team that everyone’s talented with hitting,” Courtney Koetting said. “It will really mix up our sets so the other team will never know where we’re going to go. We’ll definitely miss Abby this year, but we have Montana (Hedrick) who will be our strong middle this year and we don’t have a determined middle yet for the other position, but everyone is so versatile that, we’re filling the spot.”
Hedrick led the team in digs in 2014 but taking on more on the offensive end this season, she led the team in kills during the summer.
Bailey Curry is back after missing 2014 with an ACL injury and Emilee Edgar is expected to take on a greater role as well.
“I think we’ve developed a lot and our hits are getting stronger,” Edgar said. “Our passes are better. We’re a good team all around.”
So many returning players has allowed Smith-Cotton to spend time refining the offense, which Darcia Koetting said is ahead of where it was this time last year.
Knight also leaves big shoes to fill on defense after a career which saw her record 267 blocks. This year, the Lady Tigers take a team approach to blocking at the net.
“We’re fairly similar in height when we get up to the net, so we’re working with players that are 5-7, 5-8 at the tallest,” Darcia Koetting said. “It’s not just one person. We have all stepped up as a team and increased our blocking by about 30 percent. We’ve been working on a specific block called a swing block and as a team, I think we’ve developed.”
Fernanda Alexander is back as a libero and defensive specialist and Brittany Borke returns for her third season of varsity volleyball.
“We have a lot of strong defensive players,” Hedrick said. “We have so many we don’t know where to put them because they’re so talented.”
With a core group which has been playing together for years, S-C has developed a group which knows it can play well together.
“It’s more like reflex,” Hedrick said. “We know where each other are going to be because we’ve played with each other. It’s easier to trust each other because we’ve played together for so long.”
Smith-Cotton is hoping that will help them communicate on the court.
“I think that’s the thing that will push us through a couple of tough points,” Darcia Koetting said. “If we can communicate and get to the ball before the ball ever happens, I think we can be that much further ahead. Just as last year, we have spectacular team chemistry. If we get in a tough game, if we have a good chemistry, good attitudes, I think that will push us through.”
Eric Ingles can be reached at 660-826-1000, ext. 1483 or on Twitter @Eric_Ingles