Two things will be key in order for the Benton Lady Panthers to be successful is their hitting and their aggressiveness at the net, especially on defense.
“I think hitting is one of our strengths,” coach Brandy Chumley said.
“But we are also going to have to improve on our defense.”
Chumley said she is currently trying to implement a new defense by taking away different angles and covering different arears.
“Again with so many changes, we are just trying to work and improve,” Chumley said.
“I think we will have a successful year and we should be competitive.”
The Lady Panthers won the 6A State Volleyball Championship in 2009 on the campus of Arkansas State University in Jonesboro. Last year, the Lady Panthers finished the season tied with Lake Hamilton for the conference championship and after a first round bye in the state tournament, Benton was eliminated by Mountain Home 3-2 (25-23, 19-25, 25-22, 24-26, 10-15).
“We are really trying to focus on blocking more. We are tall so we should be blocking more,” Chumley said. “We lack that, especially in the state tournament last year.
“We need to be more aggressive at the net.”
Seniors Hayley Ferguson, Emily Morgan, Kristen Ryan and juniors Alex Williams and Erin Jackson are Benton’s top hitters on the floor.
Chumley said the top goal is to get the ball to them whenever possible.
“We have salty hitters,” Chumley said. “Who can put the ball down. They just need to be more consistent.”
The main weakness for the Lady Panthers right now is they only have one solid setter in Sarah Carter.
“She is doing well,” Chumley said. “We have a couple others who could be setters but they have not as many reps.” Benton has to replace graduated senior Peyton Olmsted.
“We are still looking,” Chumley said. “Some of those who have good hands, but just need more touches.”
Chumley said the top four teams in the conference is Texarkana, Lake Hamilton, Sheridan and Benton.
The Lady Panthers will host a Benefit Game Aug. 18 that will feature Bryant, Little Rock Christian, Malvern, Mills and Mount St. Mary beginning at 5:30 p.m.
“Sheridan is going to be really strong,” Chumley said. “I saw them this summer and they have really improved. Texarkana is always real athletic.”
“We’ve had a couple of great practices,” Chumley said.
“We are doing more conditioning, doing good and working hard. We just have to continue working on our fundamentals.” Chumley said she is having them each run a mile to try to get them back into shape.
“We need to communicate better, but right now we are just trying to get back into the swing of things,” Chumley said.
Juniors for the Lady Panthers include: Erin Jackson, Kelsey Jenkins, Courtland Kaufholtz and Alicia Sandage. Sophomores are: Bethany Archer, Molly Brannon, Stacy Cooper, Shelby Duke, Jennie Hastings, Jayelynn Martin, Bailee McNickol, Allison Rreynolds and Chelsea Renfro. Right now, the biggest concern for Chumley is the team’s overall depth.
With only four seniors on the team, if one of them were to go down with an injury or absence, than a sophomore or junior may have to step up whether they are ready to play at the varsity level or not.
“I kept nine sophomores and I was looking to add some sophomore games, so they sophomores will play before the junior varsity,” Chumley said.
“They are out here every day and doing really well.” Their first regular season game will be on Aug. 23 against Little Rock Christian at home beginning at 5 p.m.
The Lady Panthers will be playing in two tournaments this year including the Spikefest Tournament hosted by Mount St. Mary in Little Rock on Aug. 27 and the Lady Cat Tournament hosted by Conway on Oct. 8.