VOLLEYBALL: New talent, veteran experience looking to mix well for Lady Bobcats

The Georgia Northwestern Lady Bobcats will open their 2018 season on the road this Friday at Welch College near Nashville, Tenn. / Scott Herpst

The 2017-2018 season was a trying one at times for the Georgia Northwestern Lady Bobcats volleyball team as a difficult schedule and injuries made for a tough road to navigate.

But the squad finally found its footing late in the year and was able to pick up a couple of late-season victories, including a dramatic five-set marathon win over Andrew (Ga.) College.

Now it’s up to second-year head coach Amber Weaver and her team to build off that momentum as they get set to begin a new season this Friday night at Welch (Tenn.) College in Nashville in the season opener.

Weaver said the team got an extra boost of confidence in the preseason after a day of scrimmaging against Chattanooga State.

“Our communication on the floor has been amazing and that's what really helped us during our scrimmage,” she explained. “The scrimmage was huge for us. We are running three hitters in the front row with a back row setter, so I'll be trying to utilize as many front row hitters as we can to throw off the other teams because of our lack of height.”

Weaver will have five returners from last year in junior Kaylin Graham and sophomores Jamese Miller, Morgen Simmons, Kayleigh Goff and Mia Clark. All are local products. Miller and Simmons prepped at Ridgeland. Graham attended LFO. Goff is from LaFayette and Clark played at Ringgold.

“Jamese hit middle for us last year after we had some injuries,” Weaver said. “We have her hitting some outside right now, but she's doing a really great job hitting weak-side, so there’s a chance we may keep her there.

“Kaylin is going to be passing for us again. She did a great job in the scrimmage and made very consistent passes, so she will play on the back row. Morgen will be back at the libero spot. She's kind of like the catcher on the volleyball team and she leads us from the back row.

“Kayleigh will set for us this year, will also play weak-side on the front row and hit some in the middle, while Mia also returns at setter, but she can also play some as an outside hitter.”

Some of the new names will be familiar names to volleyball fans in northwest Georgia.

Katie Dixon (LaFayette) will be an outside hitter who can also pass from the back row. Summer Fitzpatrick (Gordon Lee) will also play in a setter’s role on the weak side, but can also hit on the outside or in the middle of the front row, while Destiny Willbanks (East Ridge) played most of her time in the middle during the scrimmage and impressed Weaver with her abilities. However, Weaver said she would most likely play on the outside or at a weak-side position.

At 5-foot-10, Savannah Walker (Lookout Valley) is a true middle hitter that Weaver is counting on to provide blocking and protection at the net. The squad is rounded out by back row player Gracie Good (Dade County), who can play several other positions on the floor.

“I'm thankful for the ones that are coming back because they have the experience on the court,” Weaver added, “but I'm also glad for the five freshmen that are coming in. Everybody gets along. It's like they've been playing together, somehow, for a long time, even though they haven't known each other very long. They are working well together and adjusting to new positions, even some of the sophomores.”

Weaver said the biggest key to this season will be to stay up and focused all the time.

“As long as we can win the head games, we’ll be fine,” she added. “The talent, the ability, all of that is there. We just have to stay up and play our game no matter what the score is. One thing we really focused on during the scrimmage was staying emotionally level, as well as playing off our strengths and playing off the other team's weaknesses. As long as we don't get down on ourselves, we'll be fine.”