If it seems like there’s more excitement around the Harlan volleyball program than usual, there’s a good reason — several good reasons, in fact.
The Lady Dragons bring back seven seniors, including four returning starters, from an 18-8 team that obliterated the school record for victories last fall. Harlan won the second district championship in school history last season (first since 2004) and claimed the first regional tournament victory in program history before falling to Corbin in the regional semifinals.
Harlan broke a three-year streak of losing seasons with last year’s success, a 10-game improvement from 2015 when the Lady Dragons finished 8-18. With all but two players back, the Lady Dragons expect to be even better this season.
“Our team most definitely has the talent to compete for a 13th Region title this year, however we must stay focused on our weaknesses and build on our strengths as a team to achieve this goal,” said Tara Posey, who enters her fifth year as coach.
Despite her optimism, Posey warns that last year’s success could make Harlan’s task more difficult this fall.
“Last season we lost some great leaders. We can’t base this season on what we did last year,” she said. “We will have a target on our backs. We will have to work even harder this season to stay on top.”
Several seniors will play important roles for the Lady Dragons, including basketball star Emma Bianchi, who is a force around the net with her jumping ability as a 6-footer.
“She has really improved this summer with her all-around game,” Posey said. “She was off to a slow start last season because it was her first year. After having a year under her belt, I anticipate great things this season for her.”
Jesse Cochran had a big season as a junior, using her athleticism and hustle to become one of the region’s top playmakers.
“She is a hustler. She has knack for anticipating where the ball is going, and she gets to it,” Posey said. “She works the net when she is in the front line, and she can dig balls in the back line. “
Callie Wilson also has good length on the front line and continues to improve.
“Callie really came a long way with her serve and does a good job putting it where she wants it on the court,” Posey said. “She is also one of our key blockers at the net.”
Taylor Smith earned a starting position toward the end of last season with her hustle, providing a spark in the Lady Dragons’ late-season surge.
“I hope her aggressiveness in the back line carried over to this season. She too is an excellent server,” Posey said.
Taylor Horton will also play a key role after coming back from an injury that sidelined her as a sophomore and part of her junior year.
“She is our veteran on the team, and you will see her being one of the key players this season,” Posey predicted.
Jasmine Honeycutt also gave the Lady Dragons a lift late last season, earning several starts.
“She was our most consistent player last year,” Posey said. “There isn’t a position she can’t play.”
In addition to the seniors, several juniors could also play important roles, including AnnMarie Bianchi and Alyssa Moses.
“AnnMarie is new to the game this season, but I can already see her getting a feel for the game. She will see some varsity minutes this season,” Posey said. “Alyssa has also improved her serving skills. She is becoming a leader on the court with her communication skills.”
Freshman Madison Middleton has been the most impressive of the younger Lady Dragons and could help immediately.
“She has some varsity games under her belt from last season,” Posey said. “She is one of our hardest servers and does a good job defending on floor.
Two other freshmen, Haven Saylor and Hannah Jones, could also see varsity action.
“They are both great athletes and have really came a long way in a short period of time,” Posey said. “They too will see some varsity minutes this season.”
Harlan will open its schedule on Aug. 15 at Clay County before playing host to the Lady Tigers the next night in the home opener.
Photo by Shawn Doss
Harlan Team members include, from left, front row: Lauren Nunez, Taylor Smith and Emma Fisher; middle row: Ashton West, Sydney Horton, Alli Witt, Savanna Smith and Madison Lawson; back row: Lanie Browning, Kailey Cornett, Madison Middleton, Emily Morgan, AnnMarie Bianchi, Jasmine Honeycutt, Emma Bianchi, Callie Wilson, Courtney Cozart, Rylee Meachum, Jesse Cochran, Abbi Witt and Alyssa Moses; not pictured: Hannah Jones, Emily Sizemore and Haven Saylor.
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134