Photo: Members of the Glencoe High School varsity volleyball team gather for a photo during the FCA Etowah County Volleyball Media Day on Aug. 2 at Southside Baptist Church. Pictured, from left: Morgan Lasseter, Mandy McGinnis, Hannah Whittenberg, Madalin Gorham, GHS FCA sponsor/coach Drew Hall, Brianna Beyerle, Lexi Gray, Aubrey Gray. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy/Publisher/Editor
Several local high school volleyball teams received some well-deserved recognition on Aug. 2 at Southside Baptist Church.
The Gadsden City, Southside, Hokes Bluff, Glencoe, Westbrook Christian, Gaston and Coosa Christian varsity teams participated in the 2019 Etowah County Volleyball Media Day, sponsored by the local chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes.
Each coach introduced the team’s players and shared a few thoughts about the upcoming season. The teams enjoyed a hot dog supper before listening to featured speaker Sarah Gackle, the FCA area representative for Hoover, Helena and Pelham high schools and Samford University.
The 2019 Coosa Christian roster includes seniors India Brown and Erica Snow; juniors Emma Justus, Chloe Davidson and Gemma Littlejohn; sophomore Erin Snow; and freshmen Kailah East, Mills Douthard, Bella Millirons and Caitlin Cates and eighth grader Emily Price.
“I’ve been very impressed with how hard the girls have worked over the past few weeks,” said Coosa coach Jim Bogle. “They’ve really been getting after it. If we can find a setter, I think we’ll be pretty good. We’ve got some pretty stiff [Class 1A] Area  competition with Appalachian, Gaylesville, Spring Garden and Valley Head.”
First-year Gaston coach Caydance Glenn, a 2016 Gaston High graduate, has been an assistant coach for the Lady Bulldogs for the past few years. The 2019 Gaston roster includes seniors Alyssa Gargus, Ta-mera Foster and Alexis Un-derwood; juniors Leelah Gibbs, Jamaya Kelley and Indya Price; sophomore Ivy Dupree and freshman Makiyah Underwood.
“I’ve been with these girls since they were in eighth grade, so I expect this to be our best year we’ve had in a while. I’ve had the privilege of moving up with these girls with each year they’ve pro-gressed, and most coaches don’t have that opportunity. The girls have been working hard all summer, and I want to see that hard work pay off.”
Another first-year head coach, Annie Page of Gadsden City, said her Lady Titans have a good blend of experience and youth.
“Out of our 12 varsity players, half are returning and are new, so it’s going to be a different mix of girls than what we’ve had in the past. But they’re all new with me and we’re learning together. It’s hard to compete in 7A, and our area is very tough with Sparkman, Huntsville and Grissom. But we’re learning and we’re going to get there. Our most important goals are for the girls to play together as a team and handle themselves respectfully.”
The 2019 GCHS roster includes seniors Montanta Johnson, Krya Mitchell, Samantha Avery and Lexi Hunter; juniors Tianna Cole, Kalen Dunn, Jada Hill, Emma Mason, Tochi Osuji and Alycea Posey; sophomore Rebecca Clay; and freshman Rachel Wilson.
Page acknowledged that traveling more than an hour for every area away match is challenging.
“It’s a struggle to get your muscles going after you’ve been sitting for an hour and a half, so we try to stop about halfway and stretch and get something to eat and keep on moving. It’s definitely a hard thing to do, because we play [area matches] on Tuesdays and Thursdays and don’t get a chance to recuperate if [the matches] were played on Fridays.”
Glencoe High FCA sponsor and assistant softball coach Drew Hall said that head coach Jamie Barkley was very impressed with the hard work put in during the offseason by the 2019 Lady Yellow Jackets.
“Now, they feel like we have an edge. When the girls wake up in the morning and their feet hit the floor, they just want to feel dangerous.”
Hall also noted the abundance of two and three-sport athletes on the roster.
“Coach Barkley also helps out in basketball, so there’s a lot of relationships built up with the girls all year round. When you’ve got kids like we have, it just makes the job really easy.”
Glencoe is looking to build upon the success of the 2018 squad, which went 34-25, finished fourth at the Class 3A North Super Regional Tournament and qua-lified for the program’s first-ever berth in the Elite Eight state tournament.
“I think that something that these kids are hanging their hats on, and now it’s all about taking it one step further,” said Hall.
The 2019 Glencoe roster includes seniors Aubrey Gray, Lexi Gray and Hannah Wittenberg; juniors Nani Bethel, Kaylee Knight and Morgan Lasseter; sophomore Taylor Russell; and freshman Kinslee Gray.
Southside coach Courtney Brothers said the loss of three seniors will open the door for a few youngsters but that the high expectations for the program will not change.
“Our main goal is to make it past the regional tournament and get to Birmingham. I have great junior high coaches that teach pretty much the same thing in being fast-paced and being competitive, so once they get to me, it’s not that hard.”
The 2019 Lady Panther roster features seniors Maggie Bell, Bliss Brown, Makayla Moore and Macie Williams; juniors Samantha Hathcock and Sydney Yancey; sophomores Ziniah Hardy, Macey Herron and Kelan Vice; and freshman Rylie Kitchens.
Hokes Bluff head coach Haley Simmons is excited to take the court with an eight-member senior class.
“They’ve been with for a while, so they know what I expect out of them. I expect them to work hard and to push to the very end. They’re all leaders, and what I’m hoping to do in worked them hard in practice and when game time comes, watch them play.”
The 2019 Lady Eagle ros-ter features seniors Kristen Shields, Bethany Noah, Emilee Latronico, Madison Ingram, Meaghen Johnson, Haleigh Cashman, Aubrey Moland and Meghan Cashman; junior Mackenzie Bates; sophomores Bailee Latronico, Hope Thomason, Charly Robinson and Abby Watkins; and freshmen Ava Dodd, Lainey Patterson, Reese hawks, Haley Kate Wellingham, Allie Blevins and Preslee Blackwell.
Westbrook head coach Matt Kennedy, who is also the school’s athletic director and baseball coach, said his first volleyball squad should have good leadership with six experienced seniors on the roster.
“We also have some key players that are younger and hopefully will step up. This group has had the experience of going to Huntsville (for the regional tournament) the last few years, so I hope that will play a major role. We’re hoping to get over the hump and win a few games there and get to Birmingham.”
The 2019 Lady Warrior roster includes seniors Abby Garrett, Macie Beecham, Ember O’Sullivan, Katelyn Morrow, Alyia Al-Homoud and JoAnna McCutheon; ju-nior Karlie Duarte; sophomores Jade Bell and Jaylyn Ingram and freshman Brielle Wood.
The event was organized by Etowah County FCA representative Brian Mintz, the former head football coach at Westbrook, Glencoe, Southside and Ragland.
“I thought [the event] went really well,” he said. “I thought [Gackle] did a great job, and we had one of the girls make a commitment to Christ, so that made for a wonderful night.”
Mintz said that the idea of an FCA volleyball media day grew from the organization’s weekly Sportsmanship Awards Days during football season and that we wanted to put together a similar event for the area’s female student-athletes.
Mintz is looking forward to his role as the local FCA director with the 10 high schools in Etowah County.
“I’ve been involved with the FCA since high school and then at Jacksonville State. We’ve had some of the FCA staff visit come by and help with huddles, but we’ve never had dedicated exclusively to Etowah County, and that’s what I’ll be doing. A few of things I’ll be focusing on is having more huddles with more teams and eventually hiring a female director to minster to our girl athletes. I’d also like to have a presence in the seven local middle schools and the area recreational youth programs.”
The coaches expressed thanks to the FCA and Mintz for putting the event together.
“This is really exciting,” said Bogle. “Volleyball is a great sport; we’ve had a lot of girls in this county play college ball and then go into coaching. Maybe this event will prod some them on to great things.”
“I cannot even say how much I appreciate this,” said Glenn. “Volleyball gets put on the backburner sometimes, and I know these girls appreciate getting to be seen and heard.”
“I’ve always respected FCA for doing this event for football and baseball, and now we’re getting some of the limelight,” said Page. “It’s like I said at our first parent meeting – female athletes with Gadsden City sports deserves some recognition, too, and this event shows that people in the co-mmunity are caring.”
“Being a girls’ coach, an event like this one means so much, just because of how hard these girls work,” said Hall. “These girls deserve the people in the community to know their names and to know how much hard work they’ve put into the sport that they love. I want to challenge people in the community to come out and support these teams and see how much passion these girls have. Even if your kids and not playing, it’s fun to cheer for your school.”
“I’m very excited that Coach Mintz did this event this year,” said Brothers. “We’re very excited here at Southside to FCA wanted to be a part of our program. I think it will have a big impact, not just on us but for everybody in the Etowah County area.”
“I think this is one of the greatest things Etowah County can do for these girls,” said Simmons. “I’ve known coach Mintz for a while, and for him to bring this [event] into the county and involving us is pretty special.”
“I understand that football is big in the state of Alabama, but these girls pretty important to us,” said Kennedy. “They represent their school like they should and work just as hard as any athlete in any other sport.”