Volleyball team preparing, awaiting news on season

Chuck Hayes Democrat Sports
Booneville senior volleyball player Brylee Washburn serves the ball during practice last Thursday. First-year Coach McKenzie Morris has 28 players on her roster.

While it is not certain when Booneville volleyball will start for the 2020 season, first-year head coach McKenzie Morris and assistant Bailey Bunch are putting the team through drills to have them ready whenever that day comes.

“We haven’t been given a date that we can start playing,” said Morris after practice last Thursday.

Morris has 28 players practicing for the senior high season, which is scheduled to get underway Aug. 24 with a home match against Atkins. However, it is uncertain that the season will start on time; the Arkansas Activities Association is slated to give guidance later this week on that subject.

Volleyball, along with football and basketball, is considered a high contact risk sport and different guidelines govern practice and competition in those sports as opposed to sports like golf, tennis, and cross-country which were given the go-ahead by the AAA in a statement last week.

Practice has certainly been different this summer due to COVID-19 precautions; the team has done stretching outside on occasion due to social distancing guidelines. The LadyCats were also unable to make their annual trip to Licking Camp in Branson this year.

“That was a bummer,” said junior setter Jessica Cauthon. In the past, LadyCat teams had benefited from playing teams at their skill level or above from different states. However, all other Arkansas teams are in the same boat so it should be a relatively level playing field in that respect.

Morris and Bunch have divided the players into several groups for the purposes of evaluation. The team is fortunate enough to have a lot of their offense back from last season, so they have a good base with which to work.

Senior Brooklyn Zarlingo returns after spending nine months rehabbing an ACL and meniscus injury suffered against Paris late last season. Despite missing the last third of the season, Zarlingo still led the team with 141 kills and added 277 digs.

Another senior trying to come back from injury is Alivia Yeakley. After a promising start to the campaign last year, the middle hitter suffered an injury during the Mena tournament and missed all but the last three matches thereafter.

Junior Hayley Lunsford had 136 kills, 285 assists and 233 digs last season, racking up triple-doubles in two matches. Lunsford also led the team with 50 aces. Classmate Joleigh Tate added 111 kills and 112 blocks. Libero Katelynn Spain, another junior, came up with 419 digs, and senior defensive specialist Emily Nelson served at 97 percent and contributed 159 digs.

A spate of injuries last season, along with other factors, forced the LadyCats to use 17 different starting lineups so plenty of players got valuable experience. Cauthon, asked to hit as well as set, racked up 46 kills in addition to 129 assists and classmate Abby O’Bar, pressed into a starting role late in the season, added 47 kills. Brylee Washburn, Raven McCubbin, Paisley Vickers, Hayley Roberts and Halee Villarreal all got increased playing time.

A large sophomore class joins the high school ranks this season and has several promising players. Karmen Kent (124 kills and 38 blocks in junior high last season), Teagen McMaster (318 digs) and Sara Ulmer (175 digs) are the likeliest to contribute right away from this large group.

The LadyCats are in a new conference alignment this season. Paris, Waldron, Charleston, West Fork, Elkins and Lincoln remain from last season. Defending Class 2A state champions Hackett replaces Mansfield, who dropped to 2A, and Green Forest also joins the conference for the next two years.

The uncertainty surrounding the start of the season has not made much of a difference as far as practice intensity is concerned. The LadyCats are putting in a lot of hard work and practicing as if the season will start on time. Hopefully, they will get their wish and be able to play volleyball starting on Aug. 24.