By Chris Parker
Mountain Grove volleyball took a big step forward last year with a 20-win season after back-to-back five-win campaigns. It was the program’s first 20-win season since 2013.
“I think the difference between last year’s season and previous years has a lot to do with maturity and discipline,” Mountain Grove head coach Ashley Martin said. “The kids finally bought in, trusted the process and it paid off. I think they finally realized that what they were doing wasn’t getting the results they wanted and they were actually willing to change in order to win.
Mountain Grove is set to have a run at an even better record this year with the return of key players.
Senior Reagan Hoerning leads this group. She earned all-state honors last year after racking up 488 kills. She also had 256 digs and 72 aces.
“Reagan always had the ability to be a power hitter in her, but she really struggled with her mental toughness when I came to Grove,” Martin said. “We focused a lot on putting her in pressure situations and getting out of her comfort zone. Over time, she slowly started to figure out how to trust herself and with that, she gained confidence. I think that this year she is going to surpass her stats from last year. I feel like she is not even the same player as last season. The player I saw this summer leaving the club has continued to impress me and I can’t wait to see what she will do on the outside for us.
Mountain Grove’s offense will be one of the strongest in the region with returning sophomore Raylee Stenzel. She had 411 kills with 205 digs and 59 aces in her freshman year.
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“I said it about Raylee last year and I’ll say it again this year: she didn’t play or look like a freshman last season and she doesn’t play or looks like a second this year. Ray is definitely beyond her age with her game. She plays year-round, as well as basketball and track; while earning honors in each,” Martin said. “She is extremely smart in front of the court. His ball control is perfect. What I would like to see from Ray is that she gains even more confidence and continues to be a solid leader on the pitch, holding her teammates accountable, pushing them along the way.
This duo will be hard to stop for opposing defenses this year.
“With Reagan as his (Stenzel) opposite, we’re clearly a dominant outside team,” Martin said. “Both are six-rotation players, which gives us an outlet wherever we need it. They complement each other well and will be a hard duo to stop.
The task of orchestrating the attack will fall to junior Jozey MacPherson. MacPherson has played on the right and has been a solid defensive player in the past, but this year she will move to setter.
“She’s always been a strong right-back/defensive player and we’re moving her to the setter position,” Martin said. “She’s the fastest girl around, so running things is what she does best.”
Fellow junior Campbell Welch will switch to libero this year. She had 37 aces, 121 kills and 203 digs last year.
“She (Welch) has a great platform and does a great job receiving serve and defending,” Martin said.
Erecka Penner will move to the varsity level as a sophomore to help lead Mountain Grove’s 6-2 offense.
“She (Penner) has good hands and her size will definitely help us in the front row,” Martin said.
Kailey Wake will be moving on to college and playing in the middle of her freshman year.
“She (Wake) can jump out of the gym and gets more and more confident every time she’s on the floor,” Martin said. “I think she will be very successful this season.”
Lexie Collins (junior middle), Macy Dowden (junior DS), Makenna McGowan (sophomore DS) and Landry Golden (sophomore/middle setter) will also compete for varsity time.
Mountain Grove is on course to win the program’s first district title since 2012 this year.
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“Our biggest strength this year will be coming back from players with big game experience. I feel like the girls have grown a lot since losing our District Championship last season,” Martin said. think they kind of had that ah-ha moment where they see how essential the mental aspect of the game is in big moments. They have experienced what it is to succeed and they have experienced what it is to fail. They definitely have a new found fire for next season.
The talent and skill are there for Mountain Grove to achieve all of its goals, so Martin will be looking to mentally push his team.
“I keep telling my daughters that we are blessed with strong skills and a solid foundation. We really are. In everything we do, day in and day out, we focus on the fundamentals. And that’s an advantage that a lot of teams don’t have. As a coach, I don’t have to spend a ton of time correcting bad habits,” Martin said. feeling like I spend the majority of my time trying to mentally push them to where they can handle tough situations with composure. If we can beat our opponents mentally, we will be very successful this year. »
Mountain Grove will open the regular season Aug. 29 at home against Fordland.
“We have a lot of goals this season,” Martin said. “Obviously we want to continue to have a winning season, hopefully adding a conference championship title to that, while coming out on top in the district game.”