Lady Indian netters boast promising talent, team chemistry

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By Sean Arnold

At first glance, it looks like it should be a rebuilding year for the Chiefland varsity volleyball squad.


The team lost six seniors to graduation, including leading hitter Takiya London and setter Lauren Parker, as well as underclassman Madison Baynard, an outgoing transfer who led the team in service aces last season.

But the returning players back this year look improved on the court, and they’re embracing their new roles as team leaders.

“We’re not quite as talented, but it’s a really, really good group,” CMHS coach Debra Weeks said at practice Monday. “We’ve got a couple of the kids that are already stepping up. Our seniors want to be the ones that lead the team.”

It’s also evident this is an upbeat and close-knit group that is brimming with team camaraderie, eager to prove it can maintain the recent success of the program, which includes three straight state playoff berths and a state final four appearance.

“I think it’s going to be a very positive group,” Weeks said. “They’ve already gelled really well, and they’re already doing team-building without me, so I am excited about this group.

“They’re a silly group, but they’re also competitive. And they love volleyball.”

And it might ultimately be a more well-rounded bunch per player, with several players looking to be significant contributors in scoring, assists and defense.

“We do have some strong returnees on defense,” Weeks said. “I was a little concerned about offense, but our hitters are looking pretty strong right now.”

“Our defensive specialists can hit too, and even some of our main hitters are good passers, and can play defense as well,” junior Jada Bell said. “Last year, we kind of had specific hitters and specific passers, and this year we have more of a mix.

“A lot of people think we’ll do horrible this year because we lost like half of our team, but I think we’re doing pretty well. People are stepping up, like Naja (Martin) and Sydney (Allen) and Carson (Hardee) too, and Erika, our D1 passer. I feel like everyone is stepping up, filling in.”

The returning players say there’s a new level of comfort for this team, and it’s making the group more confident about what it can accomplish together.

“There’s more positive energy,” said Bell, who played club (travel) ball with teammate Kate Weeks this past offseason. “We were good last year, but the feel of it wasn’t as good. I think everybody feels more comfortable this year. I saw it in tryouts, a lot more people tried out this year.

“We’ve got a fun, goofy team.”

Senior Naja Martin boasts and impressive combination of height and power, and she’s a better hitter entering this season, making her a top candidate to dominate the net.

“I need to be one of the big hitters this year because I know our big hitters from last year have graduated,” Martin said. “I feel like I’ve got to step up my game more, hit more accurately and communicate with my team.”

Martin and her fellow returnees say the communication on the court – so key in volleyball – is a strength of this team.

“I like how we communicate with each other and pick each other up,” Martin said. “I feel like other teams could underestimate us because of the players we lost. But we’re going to show you better than we can tell you.”

After an impressive campaign as an eighth-grade starter, freshman Kate Weeks takes over as the full-time setter, where she’ll feed the likes of Martin and Bell and standout newcomer Sydney Allen. Weeks said off-season camps, club ball and tournaments have helped improve the team’s skills and confidence.

“I think we have a lot of potential with our hitters,” Kate Weeks said. “We do miss the players we’ve lost, but Sydney’s going to be a good hitter, and Naja’s very good. We’re very ready to take the reigns.

“We’re a close group of girls because we’ve known each other since elementary school. Our personalities are very happy.”

Senior Erika Gilliam jokingly referred to herself as a defensive specialist at practice, but she figures to take on a more significant role as a solid all-around force.

“My strength is definitely defense, but I can switch from defense to offense with confidence,” she said.

Gilliam loves her new role as senior leader, and says she’s an improved passer.

“I like motivating the younger ones,” she said. “I’m trying to get them comfortable with the whole varsity feel. We all motivate each other like a team should. We basically grew up around each other so we take it as our time to shine.

“We’re definitely underrated,” she added. “When I came out for tryouts, I didn’t know how it was going to be this year. But I saw how everybody was working together, and once we put all our energy together, it was just one big team and felt comfortable.

“I’m pretty excited for this season.”

After a preseason tournament in Bronson on Aug. 17, the Lady Indians open the regular season Aug. 21 at Newberry, which they faced the last two years in the district championship. The Panthers figure to be the team to beat in the area, but they’re now in Class 5A, so they’re no longer a district opponent for Chiefland.

CMHS starts district play on Aug. 29 at Dixie County (Cross City).


Chiefland Lady Indians Volleyball

Head Coach: Debra Weeks – seven playoff appearances; two regional finals (2001, 2015); state semifinals (2015).

2016: 14-11 (9-3 in District 1A-7); district runner-up; lost in regional semifinals.

Key Losses: Takiya London; Lauren Parker; Madison Baynard; Aleaha Rhoomes; Samantha Rolfe; Jessica Ivey.

Key Returnees: Naja Martin, Sr.; Jada Bell, Jr.; Kate Weeks, Fr.; Erika Gilliam, Sr.; Macie Thomas, Jr.

Key Newcomers: Sydney Allen, Sr.; Carson Hardee, Jr.; Karlie Meeks, Sr.

District 1A-7: Branford; Bronson; Chiefland; Dixie County (Cross City); Trenton; Williston.


2017 Chiefland Volleyball Schedule

All non-tournament varsity matches at 6 p.m. (JV matches tip off at 5 p.m.)

Aug. 17 Preseason Classic Tournament at Bronson, times/opponents TBA

Aug. 21 at Newberry

Aug. 29 at Dixie County (Cross City)

Aug. 31 Williston at CMHS

Sept. 5 Bronson at CMHS

Sept. 7 at Williston

Sept. 11 Bell at CMHS

Sept. 12 at Trenton

Sept. 14 Branford at CMHS

Sept. 19 Dixie County at CMHS

Sept. 21 at Bronson

Sept. 22-23 Bulldog Tournament at Bell, times/opponents TBA

Sept. 25 Union County (Lake Butler) at CMHS

Sept. 26 at Branford

Sept. 28 Lafayette at CMHS

Oct. 2 at Bell

Oct. 3 Trenton at CMHS

Oct. 9 Newberry at CMHS

Oct. 16-18 District 1A-7 tournament at Branford, times/opponents TBA

Oct. 19 District 1A-7 championship at Branford, 7 p.m.