The 2019 season may not be as much of a landslide this year, as some new faces are welcomed to the conference and many return to see who will take the crown.
According to some coaches, the conference is balanced from top to bottom this year, and it will be a battle every night on the court.
The defending champs finished last season at 37-4 before being ousted by Siegel in the Class AAA state tournament.
However, new head coach Haley Price looks to continue the success that Meghan Devine left behind with four key returners from last year’s squad. Middle blocker Hannah Watson, outside hitter Staley Humphries, setter Rylee Waye and libero Zoie Larkins will all have to play a huge role if the Tribe wants to return to Murfreesboro.
“There is no pressure,” Price said. “We try to push each and every day in the gym, but ultimately we are trying to make them the best players they can possibly be. We have six out of nine seniors going to play at the next level and possibly one more.”
What is a bit peculiar about the schedule for D-B is the lack of weekend tournaments. The nonconference schedule is solid with teams like Morristown West, Sullivan South, Abingdon and Bearden. Maybe it will work in favor of the Tribe later in the season that they haven’t played as much volleyball.
Last season’s tournament runner-up returns a good core of seniors headlined by “Miss Do-It-All” Jaycie Jenkins, Greyson Stevens, Mackenzie Sweigart, Laken Jones and Emily Helton. Also returning will be juniors McKenna Dietz, Dannah Persinger and Claire Nave.
“Last year I lost just one senior,” Boone head coach Chelsea Baker said. “We’ve changed some things up on our rotation a bit. We’re still running a 5-1, but Riley Brandon has come in as a freshman and really stepped it up. She’s been a great addition.”
Baker says that Brandon could end up seeing some time as setter, which would allow last year’s co-setter of the year Dietz to be an outside hitter along with Jenkins.
Even though Boone does have one of the smaller rosters in the league, the chemistry is good, according to Baker, because a lot of the girls play club in the offseason.
The Lady Vikings are not that far removed from a state tournament berth, and head coach Mary Johnson believes the cohesiveness of her big 14-person roster could play a huge role in the 2019 season.
“I think we may be the smallest team in the conference,” she said. “I’m not going to let that be an excuse, though. We are strong defensively and I think the team chemistry is better this year than any team I’ve ever coached.”
Evie Cozart and Kloey Tester were both starters on the state tournament team and are two of the five seniors on the team for Tennessee High.
A key addition for the Lady Vikings is Patrick Henry (Va.) transfer Jamayia Honaker, who was a member of the Lady Rebels state tournament team in 2018.
The Lady Hilltoppers have the smallest roster listed in the conference with only eight players, but they may be some of the most experienced and tallest players in the district.
The only newcomer is junior outside hitter Sara Whynot.
The tallest three players for Science Hill include both middle blockers Ella Gay and Loren Grindstaff — who stands at six-foot-one.
With half the team being seniors and all of them playing key roles, head coach Laura Cook is looking for her Lady Hilltoppers to take another step forward.
“These girls came in during the offseason and had that look in their eyes,” she said. “It’s been exciting to watch. (Libero Mackenzie Clark) is experienced, works hard and reads defensively really well.”
The Lady Hilltoppers up front will be formidable, and one of the key weapons will be senior Claire Thomas hitting from the right side as a leftie. Science Hill may be small in numbers, but the team has some very good finishers.
Third year head coach Marquis Clark has a few athletes headlining his Lady Pioneers squad this season. Most notably will be defensive specialist Emma Gouge, outside hitter Ashlyn Dulaney and libero Maddie Pleasant.
“I always felt like they third year will be significant for us,” he said. “We’re taller and we have athletes that have played varsity for two or three years. The game has slowed down for them a little bit and it’s coming naturally to them. We had five or six girls play club ball all winter, so that was good.”
Clark says that the two sophomore middle blockers, Nora Walters and Kirsten Briggs, showed promise in the preseason and have been winning a lot of the 50-50 balls at the net.
New head coach Tennille Green brings a lot of Sullivan South flair to Church Hill from her playing days as a Lady Rebel. There are six seniors on the roster for the Lady Falcons, and they also bolster one of the biggest weapons in the conference — middle blocker Emily Hatley.
“I’ve coached almost all of these girls since they were young with travel ball,” Green said. “This is a special bunch to me. Some of them have been around me since elementary. They know I have high expectations, and I think that that his bunch is going to open some eyes.”
Green says that one of the promising newcomers could end up being senior libero Hope Bachman, whom she coached on the travel ball team.
“These girls are all in,” she said. “This league is like a roller coaster. We put on our uniform just like everyone else and when we play (our kind of game), we’re golden.”
Volunteer will certainly get a test in the first game with Sullivan South coming into town.