The year was 2001 and Whitney (Brown) Stinson was a sophomore on perhaps the best volleyball team in LaFayette High School history.
That season, the Lady Ramblers won Area 7-AAAA and advanced all the way to the state semifinals before finally seeing their season come to an end.
A dozen years have past, but Stinson — now in her first season as the Lady Ramblers volleyball coach — said the key to winning has not changed.
“Fundamentals are still the key,” she said before a recent practice. “A few things have changed over the years since I played. The game is a little different now, but the fundamentals are the still same.”
Stinson, who also took over the girls’ soccer program at LHS last spring, said she plans to follow a similar strategy when it comes to volleyball.
“I coach the same way in whatever sport I’m coaching,” she explained. “Practices will be outlined and everything will be run the same. We have the same goals in volleyball as we do in soccer and that’s to build a program here. These girls were taught well prior to me taking over and I just want to continue that.”
Stinson said that the transition to her taking over the program has been nothing but positive.
“Most of these girls are athletes in other sports, so I’ve taught them in weight training,” she said. “If they play multiple sports, I know them, so it’s been a great transition so far. They’ve shown a lot of enthusiasm.”
The Lady Ramblers new boss said she is also grateful for an eight-person senior class in her first season on the bench.
“To be my first year coaching volleyball here, and to have a large group of seniors like this, is very beneficial,” said Stinson, who did coach the sport briefly at Rossville Middle School prior to coming back to LaFayette. “It might hurt us next year, but it’s good for this first year. The (seniors) know what’s going on and they know how we want things run.”
The Lady Ramblers senior class includes defensive specialist Brooke Sharp, who may eventually become the team’s libero, outside hitter Jessie McDaniels, who has impressed Stinson with her work ethic, and Breianna Maggard, a solid player on both offense and defense.
Abbey Hannah will be the team’s setter in their a new 5-1 formation, while Angel Rich and Rebecca Kinsey will give the squad depth coming off the bench.
Track star LaKasja McClinic returns to the team after not playing last year, and another defensive specialist, second-year player Sierra Hendrix, is another solid athlete that plays soccer for Stinson in the spring.
Stinson said all eight would be valuable to the team’s success.
“Whether they start or come off the bench, they will all need to be leaders for us,” she added.
Among the juniors, outside hitter Christina Hannah might just be the team’s best all-around player and is coming off an outstanding sophomore season.
Former cheerleader Anissha Johnson is new to the sport, but learning fast, as is Hailey Painter. Painter, a good defensive player, caught Stinson’s eye while playing the sport in P.E. class last year.
Sophomore Karissa Tatum is tall, athletic, and ambidextrous, making her a very valuable front row player for the Lady Ramblers. Jade Maggard is another good defensive player that is learning to become LaFayette’s setter of the future.
Three more sophomores, Taylor Dallas, Daija Cummings, and Megan Nez, are all returning players from last season.
Stinson said she hoped to keep a good mix of talent on both the varsity and junior varsity squads in order to stabilize the program as a whole.
“Varsity and junior varsity games are totally different,” she said. “But if we can keep our JV team just as talented as our varsity team, it will make things a lot easier for us as a program in the years to come.”
As for this year, Stinson says some fine-tuning will have to take place early on, but she likes the potential this team has shown since she first saw them play over the summer.
“A lot of the girls have come a long way, even just since the summer began,” she continued. “We still have some things to work on and we need to be more crisp in some areas, but we’re scrappy. We don’t have any superstars, but we do have some good athletes that are good at what they do.
“We are kind of small, so have to be good defensive players, which is one of our strengths. I think we can have plenty of success if we just learn to be smart players. It’s all about reading what our opponents are doing and taking advantage of their weaknesses.”