A perennial Elite Eight team, the Lady Wildcats fell short of that goal last season, losing to Pleasant Valley in the opening round of the area tournament in five games. It was the earliest exit Sand Rock had in Lisa Bates’ coaching tenure.
But that was last year.
Bates said the Lady Wildcats have used that early exit as motivation for this season. She returns all but two players from last year’s squad that went 26-17.
“I think that has been motivation for them in the spring and summer,” Bates said. “They don’t want to be done that early again. I don’t expect them to be.”
One thing Bates said the Lady Wildcats have been working on during the summer is passing. As with all teams, the setter role is vital to their success, and the Lady Wildcats return sophomore Ashley Norris in that department.
“Ashley’s doing a pretty good job setting for us. She should be more confident having a year under her belt,” Bates said. “I think confidence will be a key for us. That’s one thing we’re really working on. We’ve got the hitting, but we’ve got to consistently get them ball.”
As Bates mentioned, the Lady Wildcats have experienced outside hitters in Amber Ashley and Kelsey Hayes. Ashley posted 317 kills, 152 digs, 44 aces, 12 blocks and three assists last season. Hayes finished last season with 243 kills, 232 digs, 71 aces, seven blocks and four assists.
“They both have a lot of varsity experience, and we’re expecting a lot of good, smart plays out of them,” Bates said.
Another senior also returns to the Lady Wildcat lineup in right side player Hannah Oliver, who played the position last year.
In the middle, Sand Rock features junior Madison Smith and sophomore Maggie Lyn Lumsden. New to the Lady Wildcat varsity lineup is sophomore libero Meredith Trail.
Giving the Lady Wildcats depth are juniors Jolonna Silva and Macy Haney, along with sophomore Courtney Rowe.
“We don’t have a lot of height, but I think we’re getting up a little higher than we were last year above the net,” Bates said. “I think we’re going to be scrappy and solid. I expect them to be fundamental and pretty good servers as a group.
“Our chemistry is getting better. When we first started last week, it was ugly, but we’ve come a little bit from there and gotten our chemistry together. That’s something we want to continue to improve, along with being consistent. I’ve got girls who can be pretty competitive if they’ll be consistent.”
Speaking of competitive, that’s something the Lady Wildcats will have to be right from the get-go when they open the season Aug. 25 at the Gaston Tournament. The tournament is one of five regular-season tournaments Sand Rock will compete. The others are at Sardis (Sept. 18), at Geraldine (Sept. 22), the Cherokee County Tournament at Gaylesville (Sept. 29) and at Cedar Bluff (Oct. 13).
“We try to go to several tournaments just to get that experience of playing multiple times in a day,” Bates said. “When it comes to regional time, we may have an 8 or 9 o’clock game in the morning and have to play solid all day where we can get to state. That’s our ultimate goal, to get back to state.”
The Lady Wildcats compete in the new Class 2A, Area 13 along with Gaston, Westbrook Christian and West End.
“It’s going to be competitive,” Bates said. “We’ve got a tough schedule, but that’s good for us. We need to play against tough competition to make us better.”