When Candy Goff took over the Booneville volleyball coaching job after the retirement of Robert Dean, she found waiting for her an abundance of talent. With one All-State and four All-District selections returning, another who probably would have been at least All-District but for an injury, and two more talented players returning after sitting out a season, expectations are very high for the team as they enter the 2017 season.

The LadyCats play in a benefit match at West Fork tomorrow before their season opener at Atkins next Monday. The home opener is next Tuesday when Booneville opens combined conference play against Mansfield.

With a new coach, the practice routine has been different, but the goal is clear: to be in Hot Springs on October 28 playing for a state championship. And the team have been fast learners of a new way to play, as was shown in Branson camp when the varsity squad finished second in their bracket, which was the second-highest bracket at the camp.

Preview

The LadyCats pride themselves on good defense and there are few better than All-State libero Paisley Templeman. The junior set a school record with 717 digs last season, returning at an 81% clip, and she also had a senior high record run of 196 consecutive serves without an error. Templeman is very capable of attacking from the back row as well. She was named to the all-camp team at Branson, becoming the first LadyCat underclassman to do so.

The middle hitters have been a strength of the LadyCats for the last four years and this season looks to be no exception. After sitting out the 2016 season, senior Haley Carter (6-1, 176 kills, All-District in 2015) teams with junior Aleeah Blansett (6-0, 114 kills, 102 blocks, All-District) to make a formidable duo. Both are also excellent passers and are very capable of playing all-around.

But if defenses concentrate too much in the middle, they will likely pay. Senior All-District outside hitters Jordan Weaver (188 kills) and Haley Simpson (102 kills) will combine with classmate Macy Geddes, who had 70 kills through 19 matches and was headed for a stellar season before a knee injury forced her out of the last third of the 2016 campaign. Weaver set the team record for most kills in a match with 21 in a contest against Lavaca last season, while Simpson has been working hard to make herself even better. Geddes looks to have fully recovered and should regain her place in the starting rotation.

Goff, a setter during her playing days, has a talented one to spread the ball around the court. Junior All-District player Maddie Herrera had a school-record 280 assists last season and has been a very fast learner of the new setup, which bodes very well. She is capable of putting the ball on the money for a hitter from anywhere on the court.

The LadyCats will have ample help for Templeman on the back row. Senior Casey Townsend, who did a little bit of everything last season, will this season primarily be a defensive specialist though she could be called on to set at times. She is joined by junior Kate FitzPatrick, who did not play in her sophomore year but has shown very little rust and has looked very good in practices and camp. FitzPatrick can play all three positions—DS, setter and hitter—to a high level.

Booneville is also blessed with tremendous depth this season. Should any hitter struggle, there are several that could step up and help out. Senior Adria Coffer, juniors Kelsey Mikles, Emma Ramey and Taylor Miller, and sophomore Shelby Posey all have shown they will be ready if their number gets called, while juniors Madison Burtrom, Rebecca Walters and Huntar Ritchie have improved.

Among those who could give Herrera a break if needed are Ramey, junior Melissa Humble and sophomores Stevey Harrower and Jessica Parrish, who can both also be outside hitters. Seniors Mariah Frost and Gloria Parazzolli are very capable defensive specialists who could fill in if a digger is having an off day. Cameron Harbison, also a senior, is in her first season of playing volleyball after being a manager last season; also a DS, she has gained some good skills over the off-season.

Among the teams in the combined conference play, Mena and Paris will be very strong with Lavaca also being a very capable team. In the regular conference, Mena and Fountain Lake will loom as threats as will perhaps a more seasoned Ashdown team. Waldron will compete hard, but have lost two players during the off-season that would have helped.

This could be an exciting first season for Coach Goff and the LadyCats, who appear to have the goods to be one of the very top teams in Class 4A this season.