Heber Springs jumped straight into the fire last season in its first volleyball season in school history, taking many lumps before tasting the thrill of victory in a late season match versus Lisa Academy at Trojan Fieldhouse in Little Rock.
This season the Lady Panthers have more experience and hope that turns into more wins in the rugged 4A Central Conference. “All of the kids have improved dramatically,” said Lady Panther Coach Andrea Riggs. “Skill level they are a lot better than they were. Getting game time will be the best thing for them. I think people are going to be surprised in how much they have improved and what they see this year.”
Heber returns four experienced players from last season, including Jessica Clark, Madi Fires, Taylor Sansoucie and Kaitlyn Bradke, who played her way into the rotation near the end of the season.
Riggs said Mountain Home transfer McKinsea Volbrecht is “Doing a great job for us” while Alyssa Uphoff and Carlie Ludwig have moved up from the junior varsity team and should get a lot of playing time. Newcomers Stephanie Music and Cassie Endsley also have also shown the ability to make plays at the varsity level.
The Lady Panthers visited Vilonia last week for a team camp and came out with a victory over North Pulaski. “It went well,” said Riggs. “They beat North Pulaski in one game and that was their only victory but we played some really close games with some tough schools like Vilonia. At one time we were tied with Vilonia 17-17, but we ended up losing 18-25. They are going to be good.”
Riggs said the team has been practicing since the end of Christmas break. “We came back in January and started an off-season program because most of the girls we have are not involved in any other sports. They've had to develop some muscles and endurance with weight-lifting and running during the off-season. And then we picked volleyball back up in May.”
Clark, the tallest returning starter on the team, and Fires, who has tremendous leaping ability and quickness, are capable of making a big impact around the net. “As far as playing varsity all year long we only have two returning [Clark and Fires] so we are still a relatively new team. My expectation is high this year just because after a year worth of playing they should be able to play smarter and harder.
“They were competitive last year even as a brand new team so I don't think that them coming out and winning a few conference matches is far-fetched at all. I think we will definitely be a competitor. We want to do well in conference and go further in the district tournament,” added Riggs.
Heber plays a benefit game at Cave City on Aug. 22.