The jerseys are the same ones that they wore a year ago and their home court - the Rossville Athletic Center (R.A.C.) - hasn’t changed.
But those two things are really about the extent of the similarities between the 2016 Georgia Northwestern Lady Bobcats volleyball team and the 2017 version.
The team has a new head coach in Amber Weaver. Weaver, who came on as an assistant last year, was tabbed to take over after Carrie Powell stepped down. Powell had been the Lady Bobcats’ head coach since 2012.
And of the 11 players on the roster, 10 are new to the program. The lone exception is Kaylin Graham, who redshirted after missing nearly all of last season with an injury.
But despite the lack of returning experience, Weaver said everyone is picking up the slack when it comes to leadership.
“Everyone has really stepped up,” she said. “They have meshed together really well and everyone is working hard on their own, so even without the leadership that comes with returning, experienced players, it’s worked out really well because they are really coaching themselves.”
Weaver hit the recruiting trail hard once she took the job and has put together a roster featuring players from both sides of the Tennessee-Georgia line.
One of her first orders of business was tapping into Ridgeland (Ga,) High School for four players who were a part of a Lady Panther squad that won two region titles in three seasons and advanced to the Elite Eight in Class AAAA last year.
Shanna Burk and Morgen Simmons will mostly likely be back row passers, although both can also set and both could fill a role as a libero, depending on the offense the team elects to run. Jesse Owens will see most of her time as a weak side hitter, although she could also play on the back row, while Jamese Miller will give the Lady Bobcats power as an outside hitter.
Two of this year’s players prepped at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe (Ga.) High School, graduating in 2016. Graham, now fully recovered, will be a back row passer, while Ashlee Adamson has good leaping ability and will fill a spot in the middle of the front row.
The Lady Bobcats picked up two more potential middle hitters from Tennessee. Kyanna Kendrick (East Ridge) could play in the middle or on the outside, while Anna Schorle (Berean Academy) may also see time as a setter.
Setter Tori Hall was an all-conference player at Oakwood Christian (Ga.) Academy in Chickamauga, who has the versatility to be an outside hitter, while the final two players, Sky Atkins (Gordon Lee) and Mia Clark (Ringgold), are also accomplished passer, who may also see time as outside hitters.
“So far we look like we could be really good,” Weaver explained. “We’ve got a lot of great passers. Pretty much everyone on our team could be a back row passer. We’ve also got a lot of options with setting, so we’re going to have a lot of options with what offense we choose to run.”
Weaver said having 11 players has also allowed the team to be able to scrimmage each other in practice, something that hasn’t always been the case for Georgia Northwestern teams in recent years due to low numbers.
“The fact that we can scrimmage has been really helpful,” she added. “They play well together, communicate well and they don’t get frustrated with each other when someone tries to help. It’s a really coachable, hard-working group. And off the court, they get along great, whether it’s giving each other rides or going to dinner together.”
The Lady Bobcats went 3-10 last season, but ended the campaign on a two-match winning streak and Weaver said she is hopeful that this year’s team can built on that momentum and turn in a winning season.
“The key is playing well together and working in the system and not just as individuals,” she continued. “We have great individual abilities on the floor this year, so if we can work together as a team and not get down on ourselves, I think we’ll come out with some wins this season.”
Georgia Northwestern will open the 2017 season by hosting a tournament for the first time.
The Rumble in Rossville will take place Aug. 25-26 at the R.A.C. and will also feature familiar opponents in Crown College, Welch College and Hiwassee College. The newcomer will be Cleveland State (Tenn.) Community College, who will be fielding a volleyball program for the first time in school history.
Matches begin at 3 p.m. on Friday, Aug. 25 and start up against at 11 a.m. on Saturday, Aug. 26.
The Lady Bobcats’ full 2017 schedule can be found at bobcatscountry.com.