In just over a week, a new era arrives for Heber Springs' athletic program as the Lady Panthers travel to Vilonia Aug. 6 for their first volleyball match in school history.
Under the direction of first-year coach Andrea Riggs, Heber begins the process of building a program from scratch with a 21-player roster.
“They have never seen the game played. That is the biggest challenge. I have probably four girls that have ever seen a volleyball game played so they don't have a mental picture of what a volleyball game looks like,” said Riggs.
“Other than that, we have some good athletes. So, I think once they establish mentally what the game should look like they will come along very quickly. They've done really well considering they have never seen volleyball.”
Riggs, a 1998 graduate at Vilonia, was a standout volleyball player for the Lady Eagles before playing one year at Central Baptist College in Conway. She has also worked as a referee in the sport.
The Lady Panthers immediately step into the 4A Central conference, which features a mix of experienced teams and young programs. But, none as young as Heber, which is likely to start a junior high program in the future, but currently doesn't have one.
“Southside Batesville is the newest to the conference other than us,” said Riggs. “Most of these schools have 7th grade and junior high programs established now because they have been playing for over 20 years,” Riggs said. “Hopefully, at some point we will have one. I don't know exactly what we are going to do to build a junior high program but at some point we will have to establish something to build the high school program. I just don't know when that will be,” said Riggs.
Clinton, Lonoke, Central Arkansas Christian, Maumelle, Pulaski Robinson and Marianna-Lee also will compete in the league.
With tryouts underway this week, Riggs said it would be unfair to pinpoint players capable of making large contributions this season. “It's hard to say and would be unfair at this point. For the majority this is the first time they have played organized volleyball. There are a few that have transferred in and played maybe in 7th or 8th grade but now they are juniors and seniors so it's been a big gap for them.
“Everybody is kinda at an even playing field right now. There is an equal chance for a player to be placed on J/V or varsity. But, that's what you are going to see with a first-year program. We have some girls that have come to the gym every time I have opened it this summer,” added Riggs.
The season-opening tournaments at Vilonia and Southside Batesville should prepare the Lady Panthers more than any preseason workouts, says Riggs. “These first two [tournaments] are actually before school even starts. So, they are going to learn more in those first two than they have all summer just because they will see game speed. It will be good for us before conference starts.”
Page 2 of 2 - After teaching at White County Central, Riggs spent the previous school year at Heber as a high school physical science and chemistry instructor. She earned her bachelor degree in biology at the University of Central Arkansas and obtained her masters degree in biology at Harding University in Searcy.
Second grade teacher Marli Hannah and volunteer Andrea Thomas are assisting Riggs this season.