The Lady Bulldog volleyball team has played their jamboree and they are gearing up for the 2018 season. Last season, Rolla made a great run late in the season that ended with a tough loss to Lebanon in the District Semi-Finals. A lot of the key players from last year are back and are looking to make another splash this season.
Last season, Rolla took a little while to get settled in, but they got into a great rhythm as the season went on. Now that the Lady Bulldogs have more returning players this season, head coach Stephanie Pritchett thinks they'll be able to hit the ground running right away.
"We lost several players from last year, but we return a core of people who have been playing a lot since last season. We've gone to a lot of stuff in the summer and we're kind of used to each other," said coach Pritchett. "They do have confidence. They're improved from last year, even on the front row and the back row is doing a good job as well. So we're starting on a higher level than we did coming in at the beginning of the season last year."
Some of the biggest senior losses from last year are at hitter. While they lost some great hitters, coach Pritchett is confident that the players they have coming back will fill that void. Megan Brown and Shelby Ply will be big hitters for the Lady Bulldogs this year and there are a few players that had some great JV experience to fill things out on the outside.
"Where we may have lost a little bit as far as seniority with hitting, the people coming in do have some background, it's just that they had people in front of them last year," said the Rolla head coach. "We actually should be an improved hitting team on top of being an improved passing and defensive team this year. The girls worked really hard this season and it shows with what we're doing right now."
One thing that will help Rolla's hitting game is having experienced setters and the Lady Bulldogs have a great pair in senior Sophie Parsons and junior Loran Pritchett. Coach Pritchett has really liked what she's seen out of her two setters so far.
"Both of them are really smart with what they do, where they place the ball, who gets set at different times. It's always something that can be improved on, but they're both like quarterbacks," said the Lady Bulldog coach. "They know who we have hitting and when and they generally make good decisions about where to put it and that helps out a lot. They have a ton of experience. They've both been playing some varsity since their freshman and sophomore years and it makes a big difference."
Rolla's biggest key coming back is Ply. She moves all over the court and is a great leader with both her play and her attitude. She will be a crucial piece of the Lady Bulldogs' success in her senior season.
"Shelby is very personably and vivacious. She's a great kid that is someone that people get excited about and for and she brings that to our team," said Pritchett. "She may be playing some back row this year, which is something that is stretching her a little bit out of her comfort zone, but she's doing a good job doing that and not having any qualms about doing that."
Coach Pritchett can move Ply back to the back line because they have a slew of great players at the net. They have two giants up front in Brown and middle hitter Rebecca Janke to go along with both of their setters. Brown and Janke will both be important players for Rolla at the net both offensively and defensively.
"Rebecca just continues to improve all the time. Her offseason was amazing. She is getting a lot of looks from people in the collegiate ranks and she's just a good kid. She's doing a good job with what she's doing on the court and she is actually playing really well on the back row as well," said coach Pritchett. "Height doesn't have a lot to do with it, it's control and the more we can control the ball, the better the rest of our players can play and she does a great job with that.
"Megan has improved as well on the outside and is expanding her game a little bit to the right side, running some quicks and it opens up a lot more for us offensively," continued the Rolla head coach. "They've both done a great job in the offseason and they're coming in strong now since we've started practicing again."
That core group of five players will be the rocks that Rolla leans on this season and coach Pritchett has been encouraged by how much they've gelled together.
"A lot of that happened over the summer. We played some tournaments and played some really good competition this summer and had a good time with each other spending a weekend away as a team," said Pritchett. "It's very telling when you can see different things happening between your team members and most of it is really good and then you can kind of pick up on some other things that we need to work on. Those kinds of things are really important.
"These kids like each other and that's the thing," continued coach Pritchett. "They play hard for each other and they have fun. You can't really ask more from someone than that."
Rolla still has some holes to fill outside that core unit, but coach Pritchett has some players she thinks can step into some bigger roles this season.
"Right now, Kayla Copeland is going to be starting outside for us. She'll play right side and outside," said coach Pritchett. "Parker Bourne is in the mix for that, as well. Sophie Parsons is going to play some front row, as well, which she did not do last year. Right now, I think Sophie Moreland is going to be our lead row and we have some defensive players in Maddie Lucas and Sydney Hulbert, who joined the team this year."
It's been an easy transition for some of those newer players, because Rolla's more experienced players like to keep things light and fun.
"We want to be as competitive as we can be and we want to win every game that we play, but at the end of the day, did we do what we were supposed do, did we play as hard as we could, did we leave it all on the court and did we have a good time doing it," said Pritchett. "That's kind of our slogan this year 'above all team and a team above all.'"
After a strong finish last year, expectations are raised for the Lady Bulldogs in 2018. They're ranked 15th in the Ozark Sports Zone rankings coming into the season and with all of their experience they're expected to compete in a District that includes Waynesville, Washington, Jeff City, Eureka and Northwest Cedar Hill. The key for coach Pritchett is that her girls believe they can succeed this season.
"Well I think they think they can do it. It's different from saying 'I want to get to Districts and win.' When they saw how close we got last year, it was like 'wait, we can win,'" said the Rolla head coach. "Their goal is that we want to win conference, we want to win Districts, we want to win every game that we play every night...they know what they're capable of this year."
Rolla opens their season with a pair of home games, facing the newest Ozark Conference team, Central, on Monday, Aug. 27, before hosting Hickman the following Thursday.