BRYANT – What a difference a year makes. After winning the 7A/6A South conference with an undefeated record, the Bryant Lady Hornets volleyball team returns one player with extended varsity experience as Bryant graduated eight seniors last season. This year, the Lady Hornets have no seniors.
“We definitely look different,” Bryant Coach Beth Solomon said. “Last year, our entire varsity, other than Abby Staton, were all seniors. This year, we look a little bit different, but we’re still as aggressive. We’re going to play just as intense.
“We are young, so that’s one thing we really focused on working on this summer was getting them used to the speed of a varsity game versus [junior high]. Some of the girls playing varsity for me now are sophomores. They are fully capable of doing it, it’s just getting adjusted to the speed of play being so much faster.”
Though the lack of experience may seem alarming to some, Solomon said this year’s team is more versatile and is the closest-knit group in her five seasons as Bryant’s head coach.
“This group of girls is closer, even off the court, than any group I’ve had,” she said. “I have a whole bench this year that I can use. In year’s past, I haven’t had such a deep bench like this year. If someone’s having an off night, I can pull them and stick somebody else in.
“We’ll still be competitive. They’re a great group of kids. I have a team right now, and have had since Day 1, is we have some power serves. They can serve, they can spot serve, they all have pretty good power on their serves. They can all float, jump and put topspin on the ball when they serve.”
Junior Mercedes Dillard and sophomore Kendall Selig will start in the middle, while juniors Nikki Clay and Emily Henson, and sophomores Allie Anderson and Sierra Jones will handle outside duties. Sophomore Whitney Brown will serve as libero, with the junior Staton and sophomore Shayla McKissock taking back row. Sophomore Britney Sahlmann, who is 5’10”, will start setting.
“She’s a tall setter,” Solomon said of Sahlmann. “She’ll jump set a lot and we’ll be able to do some different things with her when she’s on the front row. She’s also a really good hitter. We can maneuver around and get tricky with our plays.
Even with the youth of this year’s team, Solomon said she has smart players who don’t just react, but see the whole court. This year’s team also has a lot of athleticism.
What is the Lady Hornets’ weakness other than youth?
“Our biggest weakness is we’re still inconsistent,” Solomon said. “Another weakness we’ve really been working on is our serve-receive. Getting them put in the right spot and how we want our serve-receive arranged to get the best play.”
But with the chemistry and athleticism of this season’s team, Solomon expects good things.
“We’re ready for the season. I feel like we’ve worked hard this summer and the girls are ready to start playing.”
Bryant will play in the Benton Jamboree tonight at Benton Arena and Cook Field House.