The action on the local volleyball courts will heat up soon as the three local teams open the season in the next week, and they each have high expectations for 2018.

Calhoun is coming off its most successful season in program history as they captured the area title in 2017 and then went on to advance to the Elite Eight for the first time ever. They will look to keep that momentum rolling this season after losing just one senior off last year’s team. They have plenty of experienced talent back to make another run at the area crown and a trip deep into the postseason.

Sonoraville had a tough start to the season in 2017 but finished strong as their youth at the beginning of the schedule grew up in a hurry on the court. The Lady Phoenix earned a state tournament berth and advanced to the second round in Class AAA before their season came to an end, and they hope to build on that this year with the entire rotation returning. They have a large and talented senior class in 2018 that have high goals for their final high school season.

Gordon Central took a big step as a program last year, competing for the first time on the varsity level and showed some promise with their first-ever area win and first-ever area tournament win in program history. They will look to take another step this season under the leadership of a new coach with plenty of experience. Their aim is to become a consistent program that competes for a top-four spot in their area.

For full schedules for each local volleyball team, see Wednesday's Calhoun Times.

The teams will all be on the court within the next week to open the regular season so below is all the info you need to know for each. Here’s some team info for Calhoun, Sonoraville and Gordon Central as well as some thoughts from each of the three head coaches:


Head Coach: Randy Rice (10th season)

Last Year’s Record: 32-15 (Won Area 1-AAA title, lost in Class AAA Elite Eight to Lovett)

Key Players: Anna George (center hitter, Jr.), Ashlyn Brzozoski (libero, Soph.), Erin Kelly (center hitter, Sr.), Emma Kate Smith (outside hitter, Sr.)

Coaches Questions:

CT: Your team made program history by advancing to the Elite Eight for the first time last season. Based on that, how high is confidence going into this season and how determined are the girls to build upon that and possibly go even further in the state tournament this year?

RICE: We are excited to get this year started. We learned what it takes last year to keep going in the playoffs. We worked really hard at camp and continue to work at our defense and communication. With a veteran team returning, the girls are eager to improve and aim the bar a little higher.

CT: Your team lost one senior from last year in Erin Davis. How important will it be for someone or more than one player to step up into the leadership role left by her and based on early practices, who do you think will do that?

RICE: I told the girls we will be as good as our leadership demands of us. Many have good on-the-court leadership, but Erin Kelly and Anna George have really stepped up by encouraging and holding the girls accountable on the court and off.

CT: With so many players returning from 2017, how excited are you to have an experienced and seasoned team back and how confident are you they will continue to improve even more this year?

RICE: We are returning five seniors, one junior and four sophomores so there is a lot of experience on the team. These girls are a pleasure to work with. They like each other. They like to be challenged and rarely complain. I have been working with most of these girls since the sixth grade and middle school. It is exciting to see what great young ladies they have become.

CT: What do you think is your team’s strength going into the season and what area needs improvement?

RICE: We serve the ball strong and drive other teams off the net really well. We need to improve our communication, serve receive and ability to put teams away in our matches.

CT: What are your overall expectations for what the team can accomplish this fall and what is the biggest key in reaching that full potential?

RICE: Last year’s team set the bar really high for us. But we intend to remain focused, come into the gym every day with the mindset we are going to get a little bit better and have fun with the game we all love so much.


Head Coach: Trace Vaughn (fifth season)

Last Year’s Record: 19-26 (Lost in Class AAA second round to Savannah Arts)

Key Players: Bree Steely (setter and outside hitter, senior), Anissa Hales (libero, senior)

Coaches Questions:

CT: Your team finished the season strong last year by making a trip to the second round of the state tournament after and up and down start to the schedule. How much did that momentum carry over into the offseason and how hungry are the girls to go even further into the state tournament this year?

VAUGHN: The momentum has definitely carried over. We played our best two sets of the season in the final loss in Savannah, so our girls know the level they are capable of playing and what it takes to get there. We’ve had a solid summer of practice and some strong showings in several days of scrimmages.

CT: Your team didn’t lose any seniors from last year. How excited are you to have that much experience coming back and how much of a step forward do you think those returning players will take in 2018?

VAUGHN: It is great feeling to have six seniors and know that we still have some super talented athletes supporting them. I didn’t allow our team to use youthfulness as an excuse last year, but we all knew that was an issue. The seniors have the skills and simply lacked the confidence last season. I have already seen a major improvement in that area. The underclassmen came in last year with a ton of talent and confidence, but little experience. I see a much more balanced team this year.

CT: Who are a few girls that have stepped up as leaders during preseason practices?

VAUGHN: Bree Steely is unquestionably our on-court leader, as she is willing to put the team on her back and take responsibility for the level of effort, get onto a teammate when they need it and encourage those who need that. Anissa Hales, Kinsey Wilson, Skylar Huskins and Hannah Wehunt (all seniors) each bring their own special contributions to our team in terms of leadership. They’ve all committed to their role in our success, and I look forward to that showing in our program, both on and off the court.

CT: What do you think is your team’s strength going into the season and what area needs improvement?

VAUGHN: Ball-handling is an obvious strength, and we’ve tweaked a few things there to put ourselves in better position, but our front row players are starting to pound the ball a lot more now, and that’s where the difference will be this season. We started two freshmen in the middle last season in Abby Chambers and Raleigh Hooper. Both are very talented and hard workers, and they are really beginning to hit their stride and understand their positions. Annelies Carr is a senior, but hasn’t been playing very long. She has been a project for us and is beginning to “get it” on the right side as well. Junior Alexis Lincoln is a hard worker, hustles and will have to contribute in a big way at the net this season. Junior Brooke Childs is the lone new addition, and we are counting on her to share setting duties. In order to compete at the level we intend, we have to learn how to block and be up and in the right place on every play, and that’s our biggest need heading into the season.

CT: What are your overall expectations for what the team can accomplish this fall and what is the biggest key in reaching that full potential?

VAUGHN: We always have the goal of winning the area and going deep in the state tournament, and this year is no exception. I believe this is a Final Four team if we can put all the pieces together. We pride ourselves on integrity and sportsmanship on the court, but this is the nicest team I have ever coached in any sport. Unfortunately, that sometimes translates to not being gritty or determined to win. If we can find a way to do both...maintain our integrity and still show a high level of toughness and determination, then I think this team has no boundaries to what they can accomplish.


Head Coach: Alicen Pearson (first season)

Last Year’s Record: 5-19

Key Players: Chloe Ferguson (outside hitter, Sr.), Laura Sanchez (middle hitter, Sr.), Haley Blaski (middle and outside hitter, Jr.)

Coaches Questions:

CT: You are going into your first season as head coach at Gordon Central. How important is it for the girls to completely but in to what you are teaching them and how far along is that process right now?

PEARSON: This is my first season at Gordon Central, but it is not my first season as head coach. It is very important for the girls to trust and listen to what I am teaching them. I believe I have earned their trust by showing them the fundamentals of volleyball to better strengthen their knowledge previously learned with volleyball. The team has been very open and coachable. They have caught on very quickly and adjusted to my standards and direction. The process is moving along smoothly. We still have some instinct to kick in for some, but I believe with continuous repetition and encouragement we will be ready to play successfully come our first official match.

CT: The team competed on the varsity level for the first time in 2017 and had some positive moments, including their first region win. How much are you looking forward to try to help the program build on that foundation and take another step into having consistent success?

PEARSON: I entered this program with the knowledge that they were new to volleyball and strived to grow and improve. With that knowledge, I challenged myself to further educate myself in new coaching strategies and drills. The girls are very coachable and thrive on challenges. I look forward to sharing my knowledge and experience with the players to better support their foundation and proceed into consistent success. We scrimmaged a few schools this summer, which gave us a good idea of where we were and what we really needed to work on. I was very satisfied with the flexibility and adjustments the girls made, and we continue to tweak and improve every day.

CT: The team lost several seniors from last year that had been there since the program was started a few years ago. How tough will it be to replace those players and who are a few girls that have impressed you early in practice that you believe will step up into bigger roles this season?

PEARSON: Since I did not know the girls from last year, I feel I have an unbiased idea of who can fill the shoes. We have several seniors this year as well and many up and coming underclassmen that will soon, if not already, be varsity material. It is always difficult to replace players that have been with a program from its beginning, but I can confidently say, we have a great bunch of girls with a whole lot of heart for volleyball. A few girls that have really stepped up their game and impressed me thus far in the season are sophomore Anna Ambriz, junior Jaky Alvarez and senior Chloe Ferguson. These three girls have shown great determination to improve their personal abilities, as well as shown great leadership on the floor, working hard to motivate and encourage their teammates to be successful as well.

CT: What do you think is your team’s strength going into the season and what area needs improvement?

PEARSON: I think our team’s strength is serving. Most of the girls are consistently strong with their serve, and we plan to use this strength to earn points early and take the lead. We’re also working on placement of serve so I can direct them to particular locations on the court to serve our opponent. As for areas that need improvements, we will continue to improve in all areas of volleyball. Most specifically we need to step up our offense. The girls are used to running simple plays. We’ve been working on broadening our ability to run various, more challenging plays, and it’s been rewarding to see them want to do “cooler” or “trickier” (as they would say) plays to score on our opponent.

CT: What are your overall expectations for what the team can accomplish this fall and what is the biggest key in reaching that full potential?

PEARSON: To be honest, I expect the team to be very successful. I have scheduled some strong, competitive teams to challenge us, and I feel we have a good chance at being at the top of our region. The biggest key in reaching our full potential is a positive mindset, repetition and drive to improve each and every day.