Amber Brand [email protected]
Niangua is best known for its small school district, close-knit community, and “FAB FIVE” basketball team. However, several community members and students were disappointed last year when the school failed to recruit enough students for the high school volleyball team.
This year, the school knew it had to bring back a sport loved by students and the community.
“We had to have someone on staff. Alicia was willing to become a coach, but she didn’t meet the MSHSAA requirements,” said Lori Allen, Elementary Principal and Head Volleyball Coach.
“I’m a parent – my daughter played for seven years, all year, and I was an HOA parent – which meant I had to pass all the tests. I know the rules, Alicia knows the skills,” explained Allen on how she ended up wearing the head coaching hat. “Together we find out,” laughed Allen.
“I love volleyball. I played in high school. My second daughter played volleyball in college,” assistant coach Alisha York-Stradling said. “I love coaching…I think Niangua has a great group of really talented athletes. So when there was a position open, I hoped to be able to participate in a role to really encourage skills and character.
Coaching together for the first time can seem daunting, but Coach Allen and Coach Stradling fit in really well. “First of all, anyone who has the opportunity with Lori Allen is blessed. She’s amazing. I love being in her space…she’s excellent…she knows all the MSHAA rules and stuff. I I feel like we’re an exceptional team,” coach Stradling said with a big smile.
Having two new coaches isn’t too important when working with an established team, but adding to the challenges is a team full of ‘rookies’.
“They are very young. We have nine girls, two upperclassmen…a sophomore…and everyone is a freshman,” Coach Allen explained. “Most of them have played the game before. We have two who have never played.
The team began training on August 5 and according to the two coaches, they have come a long way in the few weeks they have worked together. “So our juniors and our sophomores haven’t played in two years, the other six are freshmen. The great thing about it, and the benefit of it, is that they’ve been playing volleyball at the college last year,” Coach Stadling said.
“I started very basic. Passing the ball… setting the ball, kicking the ball,” explained coach Stradling. “I think it’s important to use your resources. ”…Joni Day, a former Conway coach came…Sydney, Lori’s daughter, and her teammate Anne came and they taught the striking approach and really worked on the footwork…there are people who are good at hitting, or good at passing, and it’s my job to get these people here and say that’s what we’ve done, how can we build on that… we’ve done it right away because we have a young team.
“I really think that’s been a strength, not trying to take on complicated drills or offenses, because really the best teams do the basics at a level of excellence,” coach Stradling said.
The coaches also worked on building mental toughness and family between the girls on the team by talking about goals and being grateful. “The first practice, I was like everyone telling me your goal and one thing you’re grateful for. And so they all said, ‘we’re grateful to be playing volleyball,’ the coach explained. Stradling.
“These girls are very, very teachable… they’re talented and they’re hungry to play,” laughed Coach Stradling with a smile. “I think the moment they step onto the court, of course, they’ll be nervous, but I think they’ll be ready to show up and play an educated game of volleyball.”
The Niangua High School Lady Cardinals will play their first game at 6:00 p.m. on Tuesday, August 30 at the School of the Ozarks. Follow the schools Facebook page to follow the team as well as the Marshfield Mail for updates.