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Makeover not diminishing high expectations

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Despite many new faces, Anderson volleyball looking to regional again

By John Herndon

Three coaches in three years does not sound like the way to build a winning tradition in high school sports. Nevertheless, optimism is high around Anderson County volleyball in 2010.

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The Lady Bearcats made history with their first regional win two years ago, then matched that last year. But the team is full of new faces in 2010.

Even though the person listed as guiding the team has changed, there is some continuity as Bob Hardin, an assistant coach for several years and the head coach at Anderson County Middle School, will be guiding the Lady Bearcats along with newcomer Heather Montgomery, who has coached softball at South Oldham.

“I don't feel it is too much different because as the middle school coach I have had the juniors and below now for all most all of their careers,” Hardin says of the change. “I have used the same drills since they were in the eighth grade. Every year I learn some new drills myself and may introduce them to the girls so for the transition of coaches, they are OK with that.”

Practices are high-octane. Players are constantly moving as they work on passing, digs and setting up the offense.

Above all, the system is based upon focus, concentration and making few mistakes. At the Bluegrass State games last month, the team won a bronze medal in its division, but Hardin lamented the fact that the Lady Bearcats had 18 more service errors than their opposition during the tournament.

That might be a sign of youth as the Lady Bearcats have just two seniors listed on the roster.

Graduation claimed six players, including Georgetown College signee Hannah Smith, from a team that went 18-16 in Jason McDannold's only season at the helm. Also gone are K.K. Fitzpatrick, the school's all-time assist leader, Arianne Riley, Miriam Kemper and defensive standouts Cindy and Sandy Zhang.

The Lady Bearcats return three players who have started at one point in their careers and had two others that have seen limited varsity experience.

Senior Chelsea Payne, who has 421 kills in her career, is the most well-known returnee. Athletically gifted and standing at better than 5-foot-10, Payne has the potential to be one of the area's most dominant players.

“Chelsea can hold her own with other teams and has a good shot at playing some college volleyball,” Hardin says. “We feel the other girls on the team can carry their own loads. All the girls know their jobs and what they have to do on and off the court. As long as the girls talk to each other on the court we will be just fine.”

Sophomore Bethany Hardin played a major role for the Lady Bearcats a year ago and will be playing several positions, including setter. Junior Sierra Jones has 53 games of varsity experience under her belt and can be a force at the net.

Senior Chloe Bostow worked her way into a major role in the rotation as a sophomore but skipped last season. She is back and will be playing all over the court, according to Hardin. Bostow is an accomplished passer, hitting on 75 percent two years ago and getting 83 percent of her serves in.

Junior Taylor Moore is also back after leaving the program for a year. “She will be a big asset to us on the back row,” Hardin says.

Another junior, Brittany Roach, will be asked to fill the libero role that Sandy Zhang had held down the last two years. Sophomore Ashley Couch will likely be the team's setter, filling Fitzpatrick's role.  “She again has some big shoes to fill and we have no doubt she can do that as she has shown great things already this preseason,” Hardin says.

Hardin also expects sophomores Shelbi Savoie and Mercedes Dixon to play key roles while Suzanne Lilly and Liberty O'Neal will be called upon at times.

With so many newcomers, starting at the top with Hardin and Montgomery, it would be easy to discount Anderson's chances in 2010.

Still, Hardin believes the Lady Bearcats can be strong.

“Every year we have them set goals for themselves as well as the team. Many of them have win district and regional on their goals,” Hardin says. “My goal is to win but, as long as the girls stay positive and work together they will be fine.”

E-mail John Herndon at jpherndon@theandersonnews.com.