2022 VOLLEYBALL SEASON PREVIEW: Young Cedar Bluff squad continues to develop

Cedar Bluff’s Kindal Grace, left, hits the ball over the net with Lacie Roer defending during volleyball practice on Tuesday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

CEDAR BLUFF – The last week of June, Cedar Bluff volleyball coach Lyndsey Barker Mullins had no idea who she was going to play at what positions. After losing key seniors Jordyn Walker, Maggie Clowdis and Emma Haney, she said the Lady Tigers were “flying by the seat of our pants” going into their first play date of the summer.

“We found something that worked and ran with it, until it didn’t anymore,” Mullins said. “Then we would switch it, change it, rearrange it and start again. Everything I had in my head that was going to work in the offseason did not work.”

While Mullins is still tweaking her lineup as the Lady Tigers continue to develop, she does have three seniors on this year’s roster: Mattie Payne, Haley Allen and Lacie Smith.

“Mattie stepped in last year and played libero when I pulled Jordyn to the front row. She is going to be running the libero position this year full time,” Mullins said. “She has grown in the past month and is becoming more vocal and demanding in taking a lot of the defensive balls and more demanding of her teammates to perform at a level they’re capable of and not just comfortable. Her confidence has grown almost daily, and I absolutely expect her to continue improving and controlling our back row.

“Haley dreams of being a middle hitter, but for now she accepts her role has playing back row for one of our hitters. Standing at 5-foot-4, she’s not just what we consider a big block, but she is a player I absolutely hate to take off the floor. Her leadership, her energy, and her positivity are all unmatched.

“Lacie Smith, our last senior, will also play back row.”

The rest of the Lady Tiger roster is comprised of two juniors (Graceland Benton and Lacie Roer), one sophomore (Caley Bruce), and six freshmen (Anslee Evans, Kindal Grace, Blakelea Hall, Janaya Higgins, Ciana Smith and Rylie Walker).

Mullins said Benton has moved all around the court.

“She works hard and can play anywhere I need her,” Mullins noted.

Roer is a returning middle hitter for the Lady Tigers. Mullins said she envisioned her being on the outside, but she “blocks extremely well in the middle.”

“She and Kindal may end up switching and will be interchangeable,” Mullins said.

Grace has moved from the middle to swing from the outside, along with Smith. Hall will play back row for Grace as needed.

“Kindal is strong in the middle and played there most of the summer, but she swings really well from the outside,” Mullins said. “Although she has played at the varsity level, she’s in a new role and new position. Ciana is new to the speed of a varsity match.

“Caley Bruce will be another new face to our team. She will be our other middle. She, too, is new to the varsity speed, but she works hard and is learning the game a little more every day.”

Mullins said Higgins will also be in the middle rotation.

Evans will play on the right side for the Lady Tigers. Mullins said Evans is blocking well from the right side and “hitting the ball better every day.”

Rylie Walker, the sister of Jordyn Walker, returns as the Lady Tiger setter.

“She is very vocal,” Mullins said of the younger Walker. “She, as all 6 of our freshmen, have those freshmen moments, but they are becoming fewer and fewer.”

The Lady Tigers also have a few new wrinkles in their area. They compete in Class 1A, Area 12 with familiar rivals Coosa Christian and Gaylesville, but pick up Spring Garden and Jacksonville Christian.

“Switching areas makes it a lot tougher,” Mullins said. “Spring Garden, although losing all of its starters, will be competitive. After all, they are coached by Ricky Austin. Coosa Christian only lost one of their players, so I imagine they will be competitive. Gaylesville has made a coaching change, so I’m unsure of what they will look like, but they’re definitely not someone we can look over, and the same for JCA.”

Cedar Bluff opens the 2022 season on Thursday at Gadsden City beginning at 4:30 p.m. Their first home match on the gym’s new floor is scheduled for Aug. 25 against Sand Rock at 5 p.m.

“I am very thankful to Mr. (Rusty) Thrasher for getting the approval of the updated gym floor and our new administrator, Mr. (Torey) McDaniel for seeing it through this summer,” Mullins said. “Being the first ones to play on the floor is exciting. It has brought an extra dose of excitement to our season.”

Mullins also mentioned Cedar Bluff will not be able to utilize the gym bleachers this season. She said tarps will be stretched the length of the bleachers on the home side. Some chairs are available, but if spectators have their own chairs, they are more than welcome to bring them.

“We know this is a small inconvenience, but it’s just a small hurdle in getting our gym up to the Cedar Bluff standard,” Mullins said.

Cedar Bluff’s Caley Bruce, left, stretches for a block of a ball being set by Rylie Walker at volleyball practice on Tuesday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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