Waldron volleyball coach Steve Mackey walks into a program primed for success in 2021 while Shelbyville coach Andrew Fuller wants to leave his program ready for sustained triumphs.
Meanwhile, Triton Central coach Ray Basile has a young squad chasing a seventh-straight 20-win season.
And Morristown’s Stephanie Smith and Southwestern’s Caleb Tennell believe strong offseasons will help get both programs above .500 in 2021.
Here is a look at the five Shelby County volleyball programs.
Fuller starts his fourth and final year at Shelbyville with seven seniors ready for their moment in the varsity spotlight. Fuller has already announced his resignation after the season to move full-time to the north side of Indianapolis.
“It’s been about rebuilding the culture,” said Fuller, who saw the Golden Bears finish 8-20 in 2019 and 17-13 last season. “We’ve got seven seniors that learned last year how to be successful. They saw what happens when you put in the work and get better every day. They are focused now because, “It’s been there, done that.’”
Shelbyville lost leading hitter Macey Kuhn (414 kills) and third-leading hitter Malea Terrell (183 kills) to graduation. Emily Parker (191 kills) is the senior hitter now and will have more opportunities in 2021.
“She has done a nice job so far,” said Fuller of Parker. “We saw big maturity growth last year. She learned varsity is different than junior varsity. She was a huge part of our success at the end of the season so I have high expectations for her.”
Fellow senior Jaidyn Tackett has taken on a more score-first mentality this season as a hitter.
Freshman Ashlyn Turner brings size and athleticism to the program and could have a strong career, according to Fuller.
“She has the athletic makings to be something special over her four-year career,” he said. “She is physical and fast and jumps well. She just has to learn what varsity volleyball is like versus club volleyball and eighth grade.”
Fuller is less concerned about his offensive attack because he has a highly-accomplished setter in senior Gracie Leffler.
“She is a special kid to coach,” said Fuller. “She is one of the main reasons I wanted to come back. She is a great leader and a great defender. We will win a lot of matches because of her.”
With 958 assists last season, Leffler will likely need no more than two matches to break Shelbyville’s career record for assists.
Defensively, Shelbyville will rely on senior Emma Nolley, who is committed to play volleyball at Texas Woman’s University in Denton, Texas, once her high school career is over. Nolley is closing in on the career digs record at Shelbyville after notching 444 last season.
Madison Bassett, another senior, will patrol the net as a middle blocker.
“She is one of the sneakiest blockers you will meet,” said Fuller. “She doesn’t look big and she doesn’t look super fast but she does a nice job reading and is always in the right place at the right time.”
Seniors Kina Schultz and Payton Jackson also will see time in the rotation.
Ray Basile never saw coaching volleyball as a goal. He preferred to be playing.
“Fate sometimes takes you other ways,” said Basile, a lawyer by profession. “Here I am and I really enjoy doing it.”
When Basile joined TC’s program, players arrived at the varsity level with little more than six months of on-court experience.
“You can’t win that way,” he said.
So the program started developing players at a younger age and the fruits of that labor have paid off with a track record of consistent success.
“This is a product of a lot of hard work by the girls over the years and the parents letting them participate in our club program,” said Basile. “Girls start in the second- or third grade now.”
The Tigers were 26-4 in 2020 and sent three players to the collegiate level – Brooklyn Schiffli (Jacksonville State), Maggie Schweitzer (Hanover College) and Maddy Beaver (Goshen College).
Graduation took Schweitzer’s 737 assists and just over 900 kills from the hitters.
“We lost a lot of really good players but that brings opportunities for others,” said Basile.
Senior Maia Harris and sophomore Kate Isley are locked in battle to replace Schweitzer as the featured setter.
“Those two have had good summers and they are great at supporting each other,” said Basile.
The goal is to play much faster this season.
“I don’t want them (the setters) to come in and feel like they can’t make mistakes,” said Basile. “I want to play fast. We lost so much power in the hitters, we’re not big enough hitters as a team so we have to play faster and move everyone around at the net.”
Triton Central will feature juniors Maddy Brown, Kaitlin Bramlett and Riley Ross in the hitting rotation along with sophomore Brooklyn Bailey.
Senior Julia Sanders will lead the defensive effort.
“She is a good place to start. She never comes out of the back row and is always in charge of what we are doing back there,” said Basile.
Sanders had a team-high 619 digs last season.
Basile believes passing is a strength with Sanders, Brown, Bramlett, Schweitzer and senior Alyssa Wheatley and junior Kayden Simmons.
“We are young. We’ve got a lot of new players,” said Basile. “The goal is to get the mistakes in now because we are playing fast. Then, we will be playing our best at the end of the season.”
Stephanie Clayton begins her fourth season with the Yellow Jackets with a roster that lost just one senior to graduation. That loss, though, was setter Emma Theobald.
“She left some big shoes to fill,” said Clayton. “She was very impactful on our game.”
Raegan Kleine, a junior, steps in first as the varsity setter with Shelbyville transfer Zoey Coons, a freshman, also pushing for playing time.
Morristown has veteran hitters in Gracie Laster, Bella Thompson (team-high 279 kills in 2020), Aubrea Trattner and Lilly Stoddard.
Beth Hodgin, another senior, returns as libero after collecting a team-high 221 digs last year.
“She has a lot of grit,” said Clayton. “She won’t let a lot of stuff hit the floor.”
Sophomore Madison Espich will be in the rotation along with sophomore Kayla Baier and freshman Kindall Dorsey, another Shelbyville transfer.
Morristown finished 10-19 last season but looks primed for a stronger season.
“We should have a better record. All the experience back help and our setters can learn as they go,” said Clayton. “The girls feel like they have something to prove.”
Head coach Caleb Tennell’s Spartans finished 12-16 in 2020 and lost four seniors to graduation.
“We need speed in our offense a little more,” said Tennell, a Southwestern graduate. “The girls really stepped up over the summer and embraced their roles because they know they have voids to fill.”
Sophomore setter Ella Rice is put in charge of the offense.
“She is the hardest worker in the gym,” said Tennell.
Rice will look for seniors Kyla Robertson (90 kills in 2020) and Krista Brown, sophomores Riley Engel and Haley Casey, and freshman Olivia Pribble to put points away.
On defense, third-year libero Brooklyn Schneider returns. Schneider (team-high 336 digs) and Robertson (278 digs last season) are both on track to eclipse 1,000 career digs this season.
Junior Lauryn Blondell moves up to a defensive role after playing libero on the junior varsity squad in 2020.
Freshman Jaden Freese also will see time as a setter this season, according to Tennell.
“We are looking for the .500 mark this year,” said Tennell. “We have great team chemistry. There are 14 girls in the program this year and we have seniors that are awesome leaders. They are hungry to win.”
Veteran volleyball assistant coach Steve Mackey did not want to see Waldron’s talented senior group not be without a coach.
“It didn’t seem like anyone was applying,” said Mackey, who has coached for 14 years with stops at Columbus East, Edinburgh, Seymour and Bloomington South.
So Mackey, who lived in Shelbyville for 10 years and has family in the area, understands the small-school struggles to keep athletic programs successful.
The Mohawks finished 20-11 last season and return the bulk of its varsity roster.
“There is a lot of potential here, a lot of upside,” said Mackey. “They are motivated and work hard. And they are volleyball smart. They are figuring a lot of things out on their own.”
Emily Tyree, a sophomore, will direct a veteran crew around her.
“She has a deep connection with the rest of the team,” said Mackey. “They really lean on her to get the ball to the outside.”
That is where seniors Nichole Garner (134 kills in 2020), Madalyn Hudnall (250 kills) and Mackenzie Shaw (214 kills) do their work.
“They are very smart as to how a volleyball offense should work,” said Mackey.
Kaylee Young (179 kills) and Josee Larrison, each juniors, also will be in the hitting rotation.
Senior Megan Bogemann (622 digs) returns as libero. She will have help in the back row from senior Shelby Fewell.
Mackey sees his varsity roster as seven deep to start the season with some players moving back and forth from the JV to the varsity.
“We are few in numbers but they fight fearlessly,” said Mackey.