2022 VOLLEYBALL SEASON PREVIEW: Spring Garden young, but experienced

Spring Garden’s Raylee Rice, right, tries to put a ball past defender Chloe Rule during Wednesday’s Lady Panther volleyball practice. Photo by Shannon Fagan.

SPRING GARDEN – The Spring Garden volleyball team lost almost every starter it had from last season’s 38-15 Class 2A Elite 8 team. But Lady Panther coach Ricky Austin is just as confident in this year’s young squad to make another deep postseason run.

“We’re young, but we’re not inexperienced,” head coach Ricky Austin said. “We’re replacing a really good group that played for a long time, but we didn’t just sit there with the ones who are coming up and not have them ready. We’ve been working with them and having a high standard for them in junior high and JV. They’re used to winning.

“The JV games were real close to varsity competition last year. We played in some challenging tournaments. I thought that would have them ready for varsity, and I haven’t been disappointed. The togetherness and competitiveness has been really good at practice. It’s time for us to play.”

Austin said a strength he’s seen from his team is its play in the middle. Utility player Maggie Jarrett, a sophomore, along with sophomore Raylee Rice and junior Chloe Rule, have made for an effective combination.

Senior outside hitter Aubrey Sadler returns to the lineup. Austin’s daughter Ace, now a sophomore, gives the Lady Panthers more athleticism on the outside.

Sophomore Olivia Law anchors the right side. Defensive specialists are sophomore Kristen Lewis, senior Timmi Scogin and junior Maggie Reedy. Sophomore Layla Ingram is the Lady Panther libero. Setter and defensive player will be sophomore Helena Ingram. Sophomore Avery Steward is also a setter.

“We’ve got some nice pieces to put in positions,” Coach Austin said. “I like our middle game. We’re blocking pretty good. I like our two outside hitters. I like our right side hitter. We’ve got some gritty, tough defenders on the back row. We’ve just got to figure out what our real weaknesses are. Right now we need to play at game speed, compete and battle and see where we are.”

There might be a little unfamiliarity with where the Lady Panthers are in regard to their area. Just when it was getting used to 2A competition, Spring Garden drops back down to Class 1A, where they now compete in Area 12 along with Cedar Bluff, Coosa Christian, Gaylesville and Jacksonville Christian.

“It’s the first time we’ve ever had to experience this back-and-forth thing,” Coach Austin said. “There’s some great competition in 2A. We come down and bring Addison with us, so it isn’t like we’re stepping into something easy. The 1A teams that have always had a strong history will still be there, and there will be some surprises, but we kind of have lost touch with who has what (in 1A). It’s fresh. The upper end of 1A and the upper end of 2A, there’s sometimes not any difference. As good as we thought we had to be in 2A, we still have to be that good in 1A. Going down isn’t going to be any easier.”

Whether it’s 2A or 1A, the Lady Panthers’ goals are still the same.

“We’ve played at a pretty high level, and they know that,” Coach Austin said. “This group loves a challenge. Any challenge we’ve ever thrown at them, going to a JV tournament as junior high players and playing over their heads, they’ve battled their tails off. I’ll go to war with this group against anybody. Win or lose, regardless of the outcome, I think we can leave feeling good about our effort and competitiveness. They want to keep that standard. They know it comes one game at a time. They’re a pretty smart group. We’re excited about them.”

Spring Garden opens the 2022 season Thursday afternoon with a tri-match against Jacksonville Christian and Faith Christian beginning at 5 p.m.

Spring Garden’s Chloe Rule, right, stretches for a kill attempt at volleyball practice on Wednesday. Photo by Shannon Fagan.
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