By Chris Parker
Blue Eye Volleyball will get a new look this year after graduating from a seven-man senior class that won three district titles and 84 games in its four years.
“It was a group of talented girls who left their mark on our program. They were the first for many for our volleyball program. They will forever have Blue Eye’s first district victory. They have won several tournaments over the past seasons. They were also the first team from our school to advance to the quarter-finals,” Blue Eye head coach Taylor Wittl said. “Their record, their stats and their accolades are out there for all to see and remember, but what I most hope will be remembered from this group is not just at how talented they were, but the effort they put into their talents. Their determination to be the best. Their work ethic settles for nothing less than greatness. The will to win and compete with never anyone and anything. The driven mindset and mental toughness it took them to accomplish what they did. In addition to the unity and sincere encouragement of each other , that’s what kept them going. It took everyone playing their part to the best of their ability and being a responsible teammate to achieve their goals. They set the tone. They showed what it takes to be awesome and they ensured it would continue for years to come.
The graduate group includes Riley Arnold, Avery Arnold, Kyla Warren, Makayla Johnson, Gracyn Fairchild, Braylynn Siercks and Skye Hobbs. The Arnold sisters both earned all-state and first-team all-conference honors last year. Riley was named SWCL Player of the Year. Warren, Johnson and Fairchild also all won all-conference honors.
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This year, Blue Eye is only returning three players with senior college experience Samantha George, Lily Feagans and Emma Bumpus. All three went 86 or 87 sets last year.
“Them being the only three to have seen college playing time, I expect them to lead their team in every aspect with grace, confidence and positivity,” Wittl said. “To lead with their experience in the faster-paced game, with the energy to gravitate the momentum to our side, with the uplifting encouragement to unite our team and share the love and passion for the game to make sure everyone competes on every ball.”
George earned honorable mention from all conferences last year with 194 kills.
“Samantha George is my strongest fundamental player,” Wittl said. “If we need the ball put away, she is our go-to. She has a tough swing, solid block and communicates effectively with everyone around her, helping guide them to the best outcome.
Feagans will see more responsibility in offense this year.
“Lily provides the energy our team needs,” Wittl said. “She supports and encourages everyone on our pitch, providing that essential momentum that we need. She also has an exceptional attack on the right side, which allows us to be well equipped all the way through the net.
Bumpus brings an unwavering attitude to the field.
“Emma is my hustle player. She makes these last efforts possible and won’t stop until the whistle blows,” Wittl said. “She’s rambling, determined and tough.”
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Newcomers to watch include: Emmalee Litel (second year), Kieryn Fairchild (junior), Angelina Bettlach (second year) and Kayla Johnson (second year).
Revenants and newcomers will seek to overcome inexperience with constant restlessness and energy.
“Our biggest strength this year will be the positive energy and dynamic games. We will be a very hardworking team, striving to improve their skills with each rally. We may be small, but we are hungry and we “We will certainly be powerful. Our lack of ‘quit’ is something that will surprise our opponents,” Wittl said. “We just have to find our rhythm. We have a brand new squad this year with the number of seniors we have graduated from, so building that team chemistry and fluidity of play at the start of the season will be vital. The girls have been building their confidence and honing their skills all summer, which will benefit team unity in the future.
Blue Eye will participate in a jamboree in Sparta before opening the season on August 30 in Cassville.
“My expectation for this team is to play as a team every game,” Wittl said. “I expect them to know their role and take pride in their game. This is a team that will be loud, energetic and intentional in what they do. I sincerely believe this team could surprise most people by his work ethic, camaraderie and general drive to succeed. They’re going to work hard every day and I think it shows in their game.”