BENTON – Losing six seniors from a state playoff team may seem like a lot to lose going into the next season, but the Benton Lady Panthers volleyball team is not shy on experience.
“We have five seniors this year and they all pretty much played last year, or played some,” Benton Coach Brandy Chumley said. “They know what it takes, and I have a feeling they’re going to do what it takes to have a good year. It’s been fun so far.”
The Lady Panthers finished 17-8 overall last season and 12-2 in the 7A/6A South conference with Benton’s only two conference losses coming against the only 7A school in the league – Bryant. Benton lost to Russellville in the second round of the State Tournament to end its season.
One thing Chumley shouldn’t have to worry about this season is running out of players. She said a few players usually quit by the end of the offseason, but Chumley said she started with 23 players and is starting the season with 23 (between varsity and junior varsity).
“This is one of our biggest groups and everybody seems to be getting along really well,” Chumley said. “It’s not a team you have to worry about all the time. I think everybody is going to contribute. We have so many different options. It really is a well-rounded team.”
Chumley beamed when she talked about the chemistry of this year’s squad.
“The good thing about these girls is they’re getting along really well on the court, off the court, and you would think with so many (there may be some hostility), but they’ve had great attitudes and it’s been real pleasant so far,” she said.
Another aspect of the Lady Panthers that should lead to a successful season is the fact that 9 of the 11 varsity players are 5’5” or taller.
“We have some height,” Chumley said. “I think we’re going to be strong at the net. We’re serving the ball pretty good.”
Senior Allison Reynolds (5’9”) and junior Ashlie Dintleman (5’9”) will be patrolling the middle of that net.
“Ashlie and Allison should dominate in the middle,” Chumley said. “They’re so big and so strong. We have to get more hitting out of them. It’s going to be fun to watch.”
Manning the outside positions will be senior Jennie Hastings (5’8”) and junior Kiyaonda Fisher (5’5”), libero (defensive specialist) will be junior Kendal Meadors (5’3”), while seniors Stacy Cooper (5’6”) and Xandra Lock (5’7”) will play back row. Lock, who started last season with a leg injury, begins this season injured as well.
“Xandra had shoulder surgery at the end of last year,” Chumley explained. “She had surgery on her hitting shoulder and she’s not back yet. We’ll be able to have her in back row. She’s going through physical therapy and doing really good. She’s ahead of schedule.”
Chumley said just having Lock on the court is big as she is the most vocal player on the team.
“She’s not 100 percent, but she talks so much on the court,” Chumley said. “If she can just pass, I think that will help us. Just her being out there.”
But with any good volleyball team, those hitters have to have someone to set them the ball and those duties will be handled by juniors Braxton Chumley and Taylor Lindberg, who are 5’8” and 5’9”, respectively.
“They’re going to dominate that right side,” Coach Chumley said of her setters. “The only thing I worry about will be on overpasses and them being called for back row and over the net, because their reach is over the net.”
But with a team’s strengths, weaknesses also rear their ugly heads.
“Our defense looks good at times,” Chumley said. “They have a tendency to take breaks sometimes, so we’ll have to work on that.
“We work so much on defense, but that’s still probably one of our big weaknesses. We focused on blocking as big as we are. I think it’s gotten better. We’ll see if our effort will pay off, but we don’t move our feet very well.”
Chumley said if her team can get it all together, it’s going to be an exciting year.
“They’re working hard. Championship is going to be our word for this year. That’s doing all those little things: the talking, the getting down on defense, focusing, getting ready when you walk in. Just the little things that will make us champions. They want it. They definitely want it.”