Defending 16th Region volleyball champion Russell is going to have a hard time repeating the feat this season. They might even have a tough time getting out of their district.
The 63rd district will feature four of the top teams in the area — which means two good teams will have to miss the region tournament.
“I totally believe the region runs through the 63rd district,” said Raceland coach Jason Clark. “I don’t think there is any question we have the best district in the region. You’re going to have two really good teams sitting at the house during the region tournament.”
The Lady Rams have become the early season favorite after the surprising transfer of All Area Player of the Year Kymbria Williams, who came to Raceland via Greenup County.
To say Clark is excited about his newest addition would be an understatement.
“She brings some different dimensions offensively that we never had before,” Clark said. “Obviously we’re going to be a better hitting and blocking team. She also brings a nice, positive attitude along with being a leader and a teacher.”
Along with Williams, Raceland returns All-Area outside hitter Abby Brogan as well as libero Leigh Grubb and setters Megan Farley and Madison Wilburn.
“I think we can be a very solid team,” Clark said. “ We want to win the All “A”, we want to win the district and compete for a regional title. We never change our expectations. It’s kind of the approach we’ve taken, and those are our three goals.”
After winning the region tittle last year, Russell lost All-Area players Sydney Watkins and Arden Gross.
The Lady Devils are going have to rely on youth with sophomore hitters Emma Ison and Cassie Fultz and freshman middle hitter Sara Hieneman.
With the front filled with young talent, Russell coach Darrell Adkins is excited about the future.
“(Fultz and Ison) are going to be as good as anyone we have had at Russell and maybe as good as anyone we have had in the region,” Adkins said. “We expect to be in the mix by the end of the year but are a year away from where we can be.”
Greenup County, the 63rd District champion last year, returns a strong core despite the loss of Williams.
Outside hitters Cara Jorio and Madi Greene are back along with talented sophomore middle hitter Katlin Moore.
Lewis County finished with the fourth-best regular season record in the region last year but lost in the district tournament and missed the region.
The Lady Lions will look to seniors Alyson Buckner and Casey Caudill to advance to the school’s first region tournament.
And while the 63rd District is loaded, Rowan County will return a lot key players from a team that went to the region final last season.
But according to long-time coach Steve Walters, the Lady Vikings are going to have to learn how to deal with injuries in the beginning of the season.
“We have had more injuries this year than I have had in my 20 years of coaching,” Walters said. “More girls with shin splits, dislocated shoulders, a partially torn ACL. We have a patchwork lineup and some girls never played positions they’re playing it. It’s a work in process.”
Rowan County had the best record in the region and the best record in school history last season at 32-6.
The Lady Vikings will be leaning on middle hitters Faith Conn and 6-footer Rosemary Ibekwe. Walters also expects much from All-Area setter McKayla Ledford.
“She’s pretty much been a starter since she was an eighth grader,” Walters said. “She has a wealth of experience and it’s good to have her in there as a stabilizing force. Not only was she All-Area but she was top 10 in the state in serving, so we’re going to rely on her a lot.”
The 64th District sees all four teams in flux, as teams are dealing with youth and new coaches.
Ashland, coming off its worst season since 2008, will have a new head coach in Amanda Moore. The Volleycats will be led by senior setter Hannah Goebel.
Jerry Gregg takes over the reigns of Boyd County, who had just one win last season.
Fairview returns a majority of its starters from last year’s team that reached the region tournament.
Rose Hill returns senior Kirstin Wehmeier along with adding some new players. Lady Royals coach Michael Duley hopes his team’s newfound depth will result in a deep run this season.
“We are definitely more athletic than previous years,” Duley said. “I hope to build confidence as the season goes on with the team.”
In the 62nd District, East Carter will look to win its fifth straight district championship. The Lady Raiders will depend on hitting this season, with juniors Whitney Gollihue and All-Area player Jordyn Wiler.
West Carter lost seven seniors and returns a very young team with little varsity experience while Morgan County has gone winless in the early season.
With all the youth facing other teams in the region, Adkins puts it best how much of the area believes — Raceland is the team to beat.
“With the transfer of Williams, the best player in the region, Raceland is the clear favorite this year,” Adkins said.
And while Raceland is the early favorite, Walters said that anyone in the region can come out on top this year. Already in the early season, every team in the region but Morgan County has picked up a win..
“The overall level of the region is picking up,” Walters said. “Even teams that had a tough time traditionally, you’re starting to see them with better athletes. There are no gimmes anymore. You look past anyone in the region, you’ll get beat.”
KYLE HOBSTETTER can be reached at email@example.com or (606) 326-2658.