Prep Volleyball: Lady Cougars look for turnaround in 2012
By CHRIS GOLTERMANN
Newnan head volleyball coach Leslie Fant has good reason to believe her team might be ready to turn the corner as a competitive varsity program again in 2012.
That’s because help is on the way.
“I think this could be the earmark year for Newnan,” said Fant, whose team officially opens the season today at this weekend’s annual Sequoyah Invitational. “I feel we’ve been right on the cusp for a while. You want to have fun, but I don’t want girls out here that aren’t interested in winning too. We’re not quite where we need to be. But I feel like we’re getting there.”
Despite reaching the Class AAAAA tournament, the Lady Cougars struggled last season, winning just three regular season matches. It came in a year where the program was dealing with huge losses to graduation and the transfer of standout Dede Bohannon to Greater Atlanta Christian, where she eventually became the Gwinnett Daily Post’s Player of the Year before signing with Georgia State. Bohannon left Newnan to live with the family of a club-level teammate in Atlanta when her mother became seriously ill.
Of the team’s losses in 2011, Newnan managed to win a set only three times. But one of them came down the stretch against East Coweta in the Area 4-AAAAA tournament behind the service game of then-freshman Allison Cash.
Cash is among a roster of experienced varsity players led by seniors Ayla Brewer and Mimi Yancey. Fant feels the latter duo is ready to guide the team toward being a state playoff contender again this year in Area 2-AAAAAA. In addition to rival East Coweta, a new alignment features holdovers Westlake and Langston Hughes while now joined by Douglas County, Tri-Cities, Luella and Clayton County schools Morrow and Lovejoy.
(To view or purchase photos from a recent practice, visit http://photos.times-herald.com/mycapture and click on Sports / Volleyball to see the photo gallery.)
“The two seniors have shown really good leadership,” Fant said. “I feel their attitudes are where they need to be.”
Yancey, who plays at the club-level for Tempo One, will be one of team’s top outside hitters while Brewer, an accomplished setter, already showcased her versatility following Wednesday’s scrimmage against Sandy Creek. Fant wound up moving Brewer up front to the right side.
“She’s a good hitter and she can play defense in the back when we rotate. It’s great to have her be able to do both,” she said of Brewer.
Junior Courtney Lee, moving up to a full-time role on the varsity this year, will do the setting after spending most of last year on junior varsity. Fant equally anticipates big things from defensive specialist Maggie Darracott, who is already making big plays on the back line.
“She’s just a bulldog,” said Fant of Darracott, who takes over for graduating senior McKynsey Douglas at the libero position. “She goes after it all the time. I think we’ve got a great one back there.”
Equally making strides up front has been junior Julie Masonheimer, who has benefitted from a year of club-level volleyball in the offseason. The Lady Cougars soccer standout adds athleticism at the outside hitter position.
“She was a good player for us last year,” Fant said. “But that one year of club ball makes such a difference. Their season is six months and their training that whole time. The high school season is just two-and-a-half [months]. I have no complains for the one’s that don’t. I understand that it’s a money issue. But it’s a huge deal.”
The influx of talent between Cash and Newnan’s most heralded freshman player - Jenni Young - allow Masonheimer to move to the outside. Young, who has two years of club-level experience, and Cash expect to be key additions at middle hitter to offset the loss of Michelle Morelli to graduation.
Getting off to a good start this weekend, which begins today with a pair of matches against host Sequoyah and Columbus, may have more to do with chemistry.
“What I’d like for us is for out setting to be in sync with our hitters,” Fant said. “Our offense was a little off the other night [in the scrimmage]. We’re going to be facing bigger teams most of the year in six-A and we’ve got to be hitting around the blocks. It’s good that we’re playing this teams early. We think we can be a competitive program.”