By Craig Pearson
TERRE HAUTE — Terre Haute South’s volleyball team is led by 6-foot-5 left-handed force Kristen Seaton, a senior who will ink her name to a national letter-of-intent to play for Pepperdine during the fall signing period.
Seaton will anchor the Braves’ talented front row on offense as well as playing defense. But to say that Seaton is the only key that unlocks South’s championship aspirations would be foolish.
“[Seaton] has some versatility, she has the ability to move to different areas of the court, she can play middle, outside hitter, she’s willing to play defense and for a 6-5 person to be willing to play hard defense is a tribute to how badly they want to win,” Coach Steve Beeler said.
With the loss of last year’s second-leading scorer Mallory Kraly to graduation, Beeler needs other players to rise to the occasion. A 5-10 righthander, Lauren Gottardi, will play opposite Seaton. As evidenced by her team-leading nine kills in Saturday’s loss to No. 8 Bloomington North, Gottardi could have a big season for the Braves, who are 1-2 thus far in a traditionally difficult schedule.
“It’s nice when we have those two on opposite sides of the court front row,” Beeler said. “They can create some havoc on the other side and blocking for the other side. I can imagine Kristen creating a lot of committed double teams and that’s going to leave Lauren open to terminate ball after ball on the opposite side … and vice versa.”
Other offensive options at hand will be sophomores Morgan Rebeck and Erica Sell.
“We’re going to ask a little more of Kristen and a little more of Lauren [than last season],” Beeler said. “We’re going to ask the other three primary hitters to step up and score a little bit more than they’ve been asked to in the past, run a little bit more of a balanced offense where everybody’s creating opportunities for everybody.”
South’s defense should be improved after a solid season a year ago, led by libero Amy Telezyn and defensive specialist Heather Buell.
“We’re returning most of our defense so defensively we should be better than we were last year, just from experience,” Beeler said. “They’ve come in focused and working hard so the backcourt play, we should be very solid on.”
Another sophomore, Brittany Pugh, will start at setter. Other players battling for playing time are seniors Brooke Rowely and Lynsee Smith, junior Bayley Young, and freshmen Jessica Chichester, Shelby Crncic and Larina Coutinho.
The Braves have hopes of competing for a Metropolitan Interscholastic Conference championship. The Braves went 17-17 overall last year, but took third place in the MIC. And South will also battle it out for the title in one of Class 4A’s toughest sectionals in the state.
“There are four teams that are vying for that sectional. Plainfield right now I’d have to put No. 1 with what they’re returning. They were a solid team last year. They pushed [defending state champion] Martinsville to five games in sectional last year,” Beeler said. “Martinsville will be back there. They’re always tough. Northview, they’re returning a great core of their starters from a 30-3 season last year. They’ve got a phenomenal group of athletes.
“We’ve got question marks to answer before I put us anything higher than fourth right now. We’ve got to find a little more offense right now. We’re definitely not the favorite right now, but at the same time I wouldn’t count us out right now. There’s a lot of volleyball to be played between now and then.”
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A look at the other Vigo County squads and Northview:
n Terre Haute North — Coming off a 14-15 season, the Patriots are without five seniors that were a big part of North Coach Kris Painter’s program: Kylie Hutson, Carol Weatherford, Abby Dorsett, Mollly Stephens and Sarah McClintock.
“We lost 5 of top 7, so you know anytime you lose kids of that caliber, it’s going to take a little bit of time to get people to where they were so to speak,” Painter said.
Painter expects some of the Patriots that gained experience to step up into bigger roles this season. Among those players are 5-10 senior middle hitter Emily Maurer and 5-4 senior outside hitter Stephanie Hasbrouck. Hasbrouck suffered a season-ending injury last season.
Junior Casey Hayne will start at setter again this season, making her one of two returning starters with Maurer.
“She provides leadership,” Painter said. “She has a year of experience, that’s half your battle.”
North is off to an 0-2 start, with losses coming against Northview and Perry Meridian.
“Those two are tough games so that’s kind of a difficult way to start the season,” Painter said.
But there has been some bright spots. Multi-sport athlete (basketball, track) Lauren Todd, a 5-10 lefty that plays the right side, has played well.
“Look for her to do some things,” Painter said. “She’s been in on some big blocks so far already.”
Junior outside hitter Brittany Cuthbertson and libero Jenny Joy also bring some varsity experience to the table.
“Three kids that split time on JV last year, Todd, Joy and Cuthbertson, have some varsity experience and provided some stability and some offense. They’re still learning,” Painter said.
Newcomers to the team are junior middle Micahlyn Allen, junior setter/libero Rachel Boweres, junior outside Clara Doti, junior right-side hitter Kace Swofford, and sophomore middle Brittany Farmer. Farmer, one of the state’s top varsity tennis players, is getting the bulk of her playing time on junior varsity.
“She’s getting there,” Painter said. “She came in about middle of second game [against Northview] and she had a couple kills. She’s just a gamer. When it comes to game time, she’s ready to play. She didn’t start playing volleyball until eighth grade. The varsity experience she brings from tennis is a positive. I’ll get her some time on JV and some time on varsity.”
Painter hopes to spread the playing time to evaluate the most depth she’s had in recent years.
“Right now, I’m giving some time to everybody just to kind of see,” Painter said. “Ability wise, they’re all kind of close. We’re going to be a little bit deeper. That is something we’ll see in the next few weeks.”
North went winless in the MIC last season, something Painter thinks can change with the right mindset.
“You always hope to improve in that conference,” she said. “If we can go in and play well, there are teams that can be beat. You can’t assume your beat when you go in.”
n West Vigo — The Vikings are off to a 1-2 start, but Coach Rayetta Minton looks to see contniued improvement as the season progresses.
Junior Josey Holscher is the team’s captain, playing mostly at outside hitter.
“She’s just an all-around positive role model for the girls,” Minton said. “She’s kind of the glue to the team. She can play pretty much any position.”
Six-footer Amber Gardner “gives us some pretty good net play,” Minton added.
Setting up for those players, along with junior right side Sara Tidd and sophomore Chelsea Calderone, will be senior Carley Wallace.
“At setter you have to run the floor. She’s had to be our only setter for the last couple games,” Minton said. “She shares the captain’s position as well.”
Newcomers to the varsity are junior outside hitter Amanda Walters, junior setter Megan Jackson and freshman Gina Furrey, who broke the growth plate in her foot during practice and will miss four to six weeks.
“The girls are very hard working and willing to learn,” Minton said. “They’re stepping up to the plate, taking the challenge and doing a good job. Excellent teamwork, that’s the goal for the year.”
The Western Indiana Conference season is already underway for the Vikings, with losses coming at home Saturday against Brown County and Edgewood.
“Northview looks great,” Minton said. “Everybody’s pretty solid in our conference. Sullivan’s still gotta couple key players.”
n Northview — First-year Coach Ali Pinkston takes over the helm after a solid four-year career playing for DePauw.
Pinkston plans to stay in the coaching business by building upon her degree in communications and earning her teaching certificate.
The Knights have high expectations after a successful season in 2005 and most of the players are back in 2006. Northview is off to a 4-0 start thus far.
The Knights’ top player is 6-1 junior middle hitter Lottie King.
“She’s just a great volleyball player,” Pinkston said. “She’ll go Division I somewhere. She’s our go-to player anytime we need a ball put away.”
Kyler Clark will takeover libero duties for the first time.
“She’s raw talent in the back row,” Pinkston said. “She’s not real experienced bback there, but she’s very reliable thus far.”
Junior Lindsay Thomas is back as the Knights’ setter.
“She’s doing a great job. I’ve worked a lot with her about being more vocal. She’s the most solid, all-around player.”
Another junior Kaley Huffman has done well so far this year, Pinkston said.
“She’s yet to have a bad game,” she said. “Her defense is what really stands out. All the players are good.”
Seniors Briannne Arvin, an outside hitter, and Chelsea Mershon provide different attributes for the Knights.
“[Arvin’s] a very quiet player. I’m trying to work on her killer instinct. She has great jumping ability and she’s strong,” Pinkston said.
Mershon will be one of the first off the Knights’ bench.
“I like her energy and she always has a positive attitude. You can’t put a price on that for a team.”
Freshman outside hitter Brittaney Long will get an occasional start, Pinkston said.
“She just floors me sometimes with her confidence,” said the first-year coach. “Her defense is great, and she can put the ball away. She’s very, very developed for just getting out of middle school. She’s miles ahead of any other freshman.”
The starting right-side hitter is 5-8 Cari Laue.
“Her improvement throughout the summer was just huge,” Pinkston said. “I Didn’t look at her as a starter, but she is now. She’s very strong now. Worked hard to get into the lineup.”
Ashley Hull, a junior is the last starter and a “very powerful hitter,” Pinkston said.
The Knights have the talent, Pinkston said, but they need to put teams away.
“What has held them back in the past is that we don’t have a tough schedule, then we get into sectionals and we play the big schools. It’s hard for us to adjust our level of play because we’re not used to having to do that.
“What I’m really working on this year is their mentality of having a killer instinct. They all get along, they all have fun. I’m starting to see it more and more each game, especially in the Rockville game.”
Pinkston expects the Knights to win the conference and contend for a sectional crown.
“I think we’ll definitely stand out in our conference. The one team we’ll focus on is Sullivan. Erika Huff, who I used to coach [for a Crossroads of America team], that’s who we’ll target. They do have a good squad this year. Every conference game will be important to us.”
Sullivan won the conference title in 2005.
“Not gonna happen this year,” Pinkston said.
Northview opens conference play Thursday at Edgewood.
Around the Wabash Valley
Sullivan is led by junior Erika Huff, the Golden Arrows’ outside hitter and defensive specialist. Alyssa Chagnon is Sullivan’s setter. Other returnees for the defending Western Indiana Conference champs include middle hitter Kelly Bell, outside hitter Lacey Whitlock, libero Courtney Majors, middle hitter Mackenzie Simmons and junior outside hitter Jacquie Exline Coach Jennifer Murdock will have to add some young players to the mix…South Vermillion is off to a 4-2 start, including winning the South Putnam Invitational…Coming offa 17-5 season, Clay City’s first-year Coach Lu Anne Anderson has everybody back including senior middle hitters Ashley McCullough and Sarah Kennedy, senior setter Chelsee Gerber, liberos Emily Reed and Mardi Steiner. Newcomer Kelly McCullough will also make an impact for the Eels…Linton is coming off a 29-5 season. Cami Miller and Bri Ward are the Miners’ top returnees…Traditionally one of the top Class A teams in the Wabash Valley, Union will be without current Indiana State player Stacey Secrest, but Coach Tammy Meurer has returnees to lead the team in experienced senior outside hitters Kelsie Manuel and Ashlee Lovelace…First-year Coach Jacob Cummings has an inexperienced squad. The Ladybirds won just one match last year.