2022 VOLLEYBALL SEASON PREVIEW: Sand Rock’s chemistry developing

Sand Rock’s Jadyn Foster swings at a ball during a recent Lady Wildcat volleyball practice. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

SAND ROCK – After losing three players like libero Caley Garrett, middle hitter Lanie Henderson, and setter McKenna Ballenger, one might think the 2022 volleyball season at Sand Rock would be a rebuilding year.

The personnel may change from year-to-year, but the expectations are still the same at Sand Rock, and that’s making a run at the state tournament in Birmingham.

Head coach Lisa Bates said this year’s Lady Wildcats have the potential to be a good team. All they need to work on is their chemistry together.

“We did six play dates in July, but we only had two where we had everybody,” Bates said. “We tried to work on our chemistry those last two (dates). It was all right to have to work without everybody, but it sure was fun to have everybody there where we could really see what we could do.

“We’ve had girls to step it up. We’re not pleased with where we are, but we’re pleased with where we’re headed and very hopeful with this group.”

Bates said there will be some unfamiliar names step up in big roles this year.

“I’m excited about that,” she said. “I’ve got girls who have not played a key role on varsity volleyball who are going to have key roles this year. They’re the names that are going to be out there. They’re the names who are getting all the digs, the assists and the kills. It’s going to be fun.”

Bates has two seniors on this year’s squad in middle hitter Jacey Stephens and outside hitter Jadyn Foster. Stephens has committed to play volleyball at Snead State.

“She’s one of my girls who has played travel ball and has really worked at it,” Bates said. “She gives us some good length. She’s long and lanky in the middle. She’s really developed her hitting out of the middle.”

Bates calls Foster “very talented.”

“She makes things happen from the outside. She’s a very smart outside hitter,” Bates said.

Joining Stephens in the middle is junior Zoey Handy. Bates says Handy also has a lot of natural athletic ability.

“She’s long and can jump. She just needs more experience,” Bates said. “I think the more we get with her the more we’re going to see out of her.”

Joining Foster on the outside is junior Katelyn StClair.

“She provides us a lot of power from the outside,” Bates said of StClair. “She has fought hard and she’s getting smarter and smarter where she puts it. We’re looking for her to get a lot of kills this year.”

Replacing Ballenger at the setter position is two players in juniors Rylin StClair and Bethany Davis. Both also played travel ball during the off-season.

“Rylin StClair is doing a really good job setting for us. She’s going to be hitting from the right side as well. She’s got a lot of talent,” Bates said. “This is all Bethany plays, so she really focuses on it. She’s really improved from last year to this year, so we’re looking for her to play a big role on this team.”

Junior Chloe Stephens, Jacey Stephens’ sister, will be at the libero position. Bates noted she played travel ball as well to get used to the role.

“She probably could be a hitter, but she’s really got good reactions. She does not mind sacrificing her body to go get balls. She’s doing a really good job at libero for us,” Bates said.

Two juniors coming off the bench for the Lady Wildcats are Amber Day and Allie Stansell. Day is a defensive player whom Bates says is “fiery and sparky and hustles everywhere she goes.” Stansell is a left-handed right side who will also be filling in at the hitting positions as well.

One other Lady Wildcat on the varsity roster is currently injured in sophomore Kailee Patterson. She was going to be a backup hitter in the lineup.

Sand Rock competes in Class 2A, Area 13 with Collinsville, Gaston and West End. The Lady Wildcats open the season on Saturday at a tournament in Coosa, Ga.

“We expect to be competitive with whoever we play,” Bates said. “We got to play a lot of bigger schools than us this summer: the Guntersvilles, the Arabs, the Boazes. I think that has prepared us for the level we’re going to need to be. I feel like we’re going to be very competitive in 2A. We’re thinking very positively about this bunch.

“We are expecting a lot out of this team. That’s what we keep telling them. Some people are not going to expect a lot out of them because of what we lost, but we expect a lot out of them. We expect them to go win county. We expect them to win area. We expect them to get to the state tournament. Anything less than any of those things is not good enough for this group because they have the potential. The parts are there. We’ve just got to work together.”

Sand Rock’s Katelyn StClair, left, prepares for a block against head coach Lisa Bates during a recent Lady Wildcat volleyball practice. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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