By Shannon Fagan, WEIS Sports Director
SAND ROCK – Sand Rock volleyball coach Lisa Bates said she has a chip on her shoulder heading into the 2023 season.
That’s because of the way the Lady Wildcats’ 2022 season ended.
Sand Rock opened North Super Regional play in Huntsville against Pleasant Valley – a team the Lady Wildcats had defeated earlier in the season. But the Lady Raiders burst Sand Rock’s bubble in five sets, ending their season at 33-10.
It’s been a bitter pill for Bates and the Lady Wildcats to swallow during the offseason.
“I’m still upset about it,” Bates said. “We don’t talk about it because they know I am.”
Bates also feels last year’s early playoff exit left the Lady Wildcats “hungry.”
“They know they were supposed to be at state and they weren’t. That’s hard,” she said. “We had all the ability last year and just lost it mentally against Pleasant Valley. They came in second in the state, and the team that won state (Donoho) was a team we beat during the year. That’s frustrating to not finish as high as we could have. We got home and maybe two days (later), they started working toward this year.”
In order to prevent another early exit this season, one thing Bates said the Lady Wildcats have worked on constantly during the summer is mental toughness. With seven seniors on this year’s squad, the expectation is still the same.
“This should be a Final Four team as well,” Bates said. “We’ve got the parts. We’ve just got to work together.”
Bates said the Lady Wildcats have had several girls step up their play to fill in the departures of Jadyn Foster and Jacey Stephens. Foster is now playing softball at Wallace State, while Stephens is continuing her volleyball career at Snead State.
“We had to move some people around, but I think we’ve found a combination that works well together,” Bates said. “I feel like we’ve got all the parts to make a good, competitive team as long as everybody stays healthy and knows their role. We had a good summer of learning our roles and seeing who’s good at what. We put ourselves through a lot of skills and drills and competition to get ready for this year.
“I feel like we could play today if we needed to. That’s how good our summer was. I feel like we’re fine-tuning at this point to get ready for Aug. 24 (at Glencoe in a tri-match with Sylvania).”
And it all starts with Sand Rock’s seniors.
Rylin StClair is the Lady Wildcat setter and Chloe Stephens is at libero. Bates said the duo has put in a lot of extra work to improve their games.
Outside hitter Katelyn StClair also returns to the Lady Wildcat lineup. Bates said she’s expecting her to contribute to the team “all the way around.”
One of the players Bates has shifted to a new role is Bethany Davis. She worked on the right side and as a setter last season, but now joins Katelyn StClair on the outside.
Another senior, left-hander Allie Stansell, will take Davis’s old spot on the right side.
“She’s a good vocal leader and a true team player,” Bates said of Stansell. “She has been patiently working hard and is now going to get her time to shine hopefully her senior year.”
Bates said the Lady Wildcats’ sparkplug is senior Amber Day, who is the team’s defensive specialist.
“She is our spirit, our fire,” Bates said. “She does anything I ask of her.”
Senior Zoey Handy is one of the Lady Wildcats’ middle hitters.
“She has good jumping ability and natural athletic ability,” Bates said. “We’re expecting a lot more out of her blocking and a lot more offense out of her this year. She can really get up high and make some things happen.”
Junior outside hitter Kailee Patterson is coming off an ACL injury. Bates said she’s trying to get her jumping and moving back.
The other two Sand Rock varsity players are freshmen Peyton Johnson and Molly Grace Lay. Johnson joins Handy as a middle hitter, while Lay is a defensive specialist.
“We’re not going to be a super-powerful team, as far as anybody being scared of us, but I feel like we’re going to be fundamental and be able to put the ball away,” Bates said. “We expect to be scrappy. We’re not super tall. As a team, it’s not going to be intimidating power, but I hope we’re going to be smart with how we play volleyball. I feel like we’re going to have to be really good servers and good at serve-receive, just have good ball control where we have many options.”
Sand Rock competes in Class 2A, Area 13 with Collinsville, Gaston and West End.
2023 Sand Rock Volleyball Schedule
Aug. 24 at Glencoe w/ Sylvania 4 p.m.
Aug. 26 at Coosa (Ga.) Tournament TBA
Aug. 28 Sardis/Plainview 4 p.m.
Aug. 29 West End 4 p.m.
Aug. 31 Gaston 4 p.m.
Sept. 2 at Supreme Courts Tournament TBA
Sept. 5 Fort Payne/Hokes Bluff 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 9 at Champions Tournament TBA
Sept. 11 Cedar Bluff/Douglas 4 p.m.
Sept. 12 at Spring Garden 5 p.m.
Sept. 19 Collinsville 4 p.m.
Sept. 21 at West End 4 p.m.
Sept. 23 at Supreme Courts Tournament TBA
Sept. 25 at Gaston 4:30 p.m.
Sept. 28 at Cherokee County w/ Etowah 4 p.m.
Sept. 30 at Cherokee Co. Tourney (SG) TBA
Oct. 3 at Sardis w/ Boaz 5 p.m.
Oct. 5 Glencoe/Ider 4 p.m.
Oct. 7 at Glencoe Tournament TBA
Oct. 9 at Cedar Bluff w/ Southside TBA
Oct. 12 Westbrook Chr./ Spring Garden 4:30 p.m.
Oct. 14 at Cherokee Co. Quad Match TBA