Valley Sports Report
ATHENS — Athens volleyball coach Heather Hanson is looking for “heart and hustle” to replace experience, and help the Lady Wildcats to a successful season in 2021.

Athens is coming off a district finals appearance in 2020 — the program’s first in 15 years, but lost seven seniors to graduation.

“We’ve talked about last year, but we’re not comparing ourselves to that team, and that’s something I have to work on as well,” said Hanson.

“When the girls came in the first practice of the preseason, they were loud and screaming, and talking,” she noted. “With the seven seniors gone, I was expecting everyone to be shy, but this group is great.

“We have a lot of heart and hustle on this team this year,” Hanson added.

Hanson has also tempered her expectations a bit.

“I’m trying not to expect too much from this team,” she said. “We’re young, I’m trying to let them set the bar of themselves because I don’t really know what to expect.

“Right now, they’ve been talking really well, so I’ve raided the bar in that regard,” she added. “I better see the girls talking on the floor the next time out because they’ve been doing it in practice.”

The Lady Wildcats will run a 5-1 offense this year, with junior Jenny Ryan acting as the setter.

“(Jenny) has developed into a big leader on our team,” said Hanson. “She will do a terrific job.”

Freshman Ella Coyle will start at libero.

“She is an all-out player, she goes for everything,” noted Hanson.

Freshman Kassie Babcock and senior Ally Martin will start at outside hitter, with junior Braelynn Wood vying for time there as well.

Senior Taylor Walker will start at middle hitter, with junior Cassy Friend seeing time there, while junior Audrey Clare will man the right-side hitter spot.

Junior hitter Cailin McDaniel is out with an ankle injury. Hanson is hopeful she will return.

Among the losses from 2020 were Athens’ top hitters.

“Hitting is my biggest concern right now. Who is going to put the ball down?” said Hanson.

“I know it’s not about how hard you hit it, but where you put the ball,” she noted. “The girls need to make the smart play, and not try to hit it, if it’s not in a spot to hit it.

“I just want them to make smart choices, and that will come with experience,” added Hanson.

Athens open play today at the Williamson Tournament.


IN PHOTO 1: Athens coach Heather Hanson. … PHOTOS BY TIM BIRNEY.