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Thursday, Apr. 28, 2016

Lady Owls have spots to fill

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Junior Karson Heying gives the Lady Owls a long, athletic presence in the middle.
(Chris Allen/Democrat-News)
The Marshall girls' volleyball team will play under its third head coach in three years this season.

Fortunately, there is some continuity in the program as former Santa Fe and Missouri Valley College player Paula (Tieman) Brown is elevated to the top job after serving as Amanda Tracy's assistant last season.

"It's a lot easier knowing everybody by name, their strengths and weaknesses," Brown said. "There's already that coach-athlete bond."

It also helps that assistant Gentry Lark has been with the program for several years, herself having once headed the Lady Owls.

"She's a huge support system for me," especially in knowing the management end of the head coach's job, Brown explained. "I know our freshmen girls will get the proper fundamental training they need."

Unity at the coaching level, which also includes ex-Lady Chief Megan Case, may set the tone for the same dynamic among the players.

"Working hard and being a team are what we want to focus on," Brown explained.

That may be especially important this season, as Marshall has taken its second big graduation hit in a row with the loss of four veteran starters -- including all-region setter Haley Witcher and all-NCMC picks in middle Abby Hartley and setter Ariel Smith.

"We did lose some really good volleyball players," Brown admitted. "We're reloading with a new group of seniors."

She praises the leadership skills of the upperclassmen, even those whose roles may not be as prominent on the court, like outside hitter Jessica Browning and defensive specialist Itzel Sanchez.

Of course, replacing quality setters will be paramount, with the job falling to junior Taylor Pistel -- who is recovering from an injury -- and sophomore Morgan Thompson.

"They take direction very well," Brown said. "They want to learn and improve."

Senior hitter Jashawna Terry, who missed the last half of the '11 season with an injury, gives the Lady Owls another option as a setter. Fortunately, senior Rachel Brown and junior Analee Tucker were part of the rotation last year as outside hitters.

Brown "is very comfortable on the court," according to her coach, and is another leader. Tucker combines consistency with a strong jump serve.

In the middle is 5-foot-10 junior Karson Heying, who Coach Brown said "came on during the season" last year.

"She is a hard worker and possesses that competitive drive," Brown added.

Marshall will look for a nice debut from 5-8 freshman Abbie Lemmons, an athletic middle with a nice arm swing and keen court awareness.

Senior Jasmine Tapia is an experienced libero, while sophomore Allie Lemmons flashed promise during her periodic varsity appearances a year ago. Transferring in from St. Teresa's Academy in Kansas City is sophomore defender Olivia Haug, who Brown assessed as fundamentally sound with fine passing skills.

That's where it all starts, of course.

"If you don't have a pass, the continuation of the game is not there," Brown explained. "We have some returning defensive specialists and some younger girls who are really stepping up."

The challenge is for a group with several new parts to find consistency in passing and setting.

"If we can really nail those question marks, then we could start having a faster pace of game," Brown said. "If we can start running the quicks, that brings the level of play up and it's much more difficult for opponents."

Whether that can be accomplished rapidly enough for the Lady Owls to advance past the district semifinal round for only the second time since reaching the state quarterfinals in 2007 is uncertain, but engendering team spirit is a goal which should be readily achieved.

"We not only need to come together ability-wise, but need to come together as a family," Brown declared. "Our communication skills, on and off the court, can always be improved."

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