From 20 wins and a trip to the regional semifinals in 2013 to a 5-24 nightmare last year, the Harlan County Lady Bears and first-year coach Stacy Noe are hoping to reverse a slide that has dropped them to near the bottom of the 13th Region standings.
Step one in the process, according to Noe, is not spending a whole time of time dwelling on last season.
“We did have a horrible season last season, but it is over, and we are looking to improve our team by putting team first and realizing that we have to play every play to be successful,” said Noe, who served as an assistant with Josi Brooks last year in her first and only season with the Lady Bears.
“The girls have put forth a great effort and worked hard all summer long. I think we’ll be more athletic this year. The girls are moving and working hard, and that’s what it’s going to take for us to be successful.”
Noe is counting on a senior-dominated lineup to help reverse the Lady Bears’ slide.
Natalie Middleton is the most experienced player on the roster as a three-year starter.
“Natalie is the strongest player on team,” Noe said. “I am looking for her leadership to carry the team.”
Haley Blakley, who also excels in softball, is another returning senior starter.
“She is the most athletic player we have on both ends. She is a great jumper for her size, hits the ball hard and gets on the floor,” Noe said. “I love her work ethic so far during summer practice.”
Morgan Burke is also expected to play a key role, as will Valaree Day, who returns after a year away from volleyball.
“Morgan is a player. She doesn’t get rattled. She just comes to play every night,” Noe said. “Valaree left the team last year, but it is returning for her senior season, and I am expecting big things from her. She is undoubtedly our best blocker on the team and can kill the ball when the opportunity presents itself.”
Elyse Turner could give the Lady Bears five senior starters.
“She started sparingly last season and has really worked hard during the off season to fine tune her skills,” Noe said. “I’m hoping she has a great season.”
Miranda Cook and Chelsey Noe, both juniors, are among the candidates to round out the lineup.
Miranda is a two-year varsity starter who can kill the ball and has great work ethic. She is a warrior on the court and she will present problems with her athleticism,” Noe said. “Chelsey started only one game as a setter last year for varsity but she is a gamer. She plays hard and understands her role night in and night out. She is always talking and trying to do what is best for the team.”
Others in the mix for starting jobs are Chelsey Caldwell, Krista Burke, Kimber Collins and Abby Stevens.
“Chelsey and Krista played sparingly for the varsity last year, and they have improved over the summer,” Noe said. “Kimber and Abby will see the floor a lot. Abby is just volleyball minded and sees the court well. Kimber does good things on both ends of the court and has a powerful serve.”
Sophia Sergent, a junior, could also see action.
“Sophia has worked hard on and off the court, and her effort shows every day in practice,” said Noe.
Newcomers such as Emily Long, Brooklyn Collins, Olivia Minor and Madison Blanton could also compete for playing time.
“They all are athletic and try to get to every ball,” he said. “Once they understand the game more, they will help our team out tremendously.”
Despite their struggles last year, Harlan County was able to close strong and advance to the 13th Region Tournament for the sixth straight year and seventh time in the eight years of the school. The Lady Bears like their chances of getting back to the regional, even though defending champ Harlan enters the year as the district favorite.
“We have to keep working hard and put the team first,” Noe said. “I believe that with all my heart. If they do that, we’ll be successful.”
Reach John Henson at 606-909-4134