Photo: Taylor Spradley (left) and Jaylen Freeman block a shot during a recent Gadsden State volleyball practice. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
The 2019 Gadsden State volleyball team has a good blend of experience and youth with eight sophomores and six freshmen, and head coach Connie Clark hopes that will lead to good depth.
“I’m excited about the season and this team,” said Clark. “They’re a good group of kids, and we’re ready to play.”
The 2019 sophomore class includes defensive specialist Grace Nolen, defensive specialist Jaylyn Freeman, outside hitter Shelby Bates, outside hitter Landry Bussey, outside hitter Aubrey Pope, setter Madelyn Massey, outside hitter Taylor Spradley and setter Brooke Murphy. Spradley, who along with Freeman was named to the Alabama Community College Conference All-Region 22 first team, has offers from Shorter, Montevallo and West Georgia.
The incoming freshman class features defensive specialist Joanie Lang from A.P. Brewer, setter Leigh Anna Tralongo from Madison, middle hitter Morgan McClendon from Jasper, middle hitter China Lane from Alexandria, middle hitter Zoe Busbee from Florence and defensive specialist Gracie West from Hokes Bluff.
“Gracie’s works really hard and done a really good job,” said Clark, who teaches at Hokes Bluff Middle School. “She’ll see the floor some.”
West said she is excited to compete at the junior college level.
“It’s something that I’ve always wanted to achieve, so it makes me feel really good about myself,” said West, who plans on studying radiology. “All the players at this level are really good. But [Hokes Bluff volleyball [Coach [Haley] Simmons] said that she thinks I’m capable of doing it and that she has high hopes for me.”
Gadsden State went 27-10 last season, including as 12-4 mark in conference play. Clark was named ACCC Coach of the year following the conference tournament, during which Gadsden State went 0-2.
“We didn’t have a lot of injuries last year, so we stayed relatively strong,” said Clark. “I thought that we peaked at the end of the season, but we didn’t play well at the [ACCC] Tournament. It’s very hard to work your way back in the playback bracket when you lose your first match, and I thought it was more of a mental issue with us. I’m hoping that things will turn out a little different for is this season.”
Starting this year, the Region 22 conference tournament will be shared with teams from Alabama, Mississippi, New York and Maryland.
Gadsden State will host its own tournament for the first time in several years. Since the Lady Cardinals’ tournament slate is very front-loaded, Clark scheduled it for mid-October.
“We don’t have a tournament from the one in Indiana in early October to the conference tournament a month later, plus, Lawson did away with [its] tournament this year. Right now, it’s us, Lawson [State], Snead [State], Judson [College] and Pensacola [Community College]. Maybe we can add another team next year.”
A 1989 West End High graduate, Clark was a part of four straight state championship teams with the Lady Patriots. She attended Gads-den State on a scholarship and played volleyball for the Lady Cardinals from 1989 to 1990.
After graduating from Jacksonville State, she was an assistant coach under Billie Spradley at Alexandria High School. The duo led the Lady Valley Cubs to state titles in 1994 and 1995. Spradley is now Clark’s assistant coach.
Clark then coached at West End from 1998-2006. She was selected Eto-wah County Schools Coach of the Year in 2003 after the Lady Patriots finished with a 44-18 record and qualified for the Elite Eight state tournament. Clark coached at West End until 2006, when she joined Angie San-ders at Gadsden State as an assistant.
The Lady Cardinals’ ACCC competition consists of Wallace-Hanceville, Snead State, Coastal Ala-bama East, Coastal Alabama South, Wallace-Selma, Bevill State, Lawson State, and Southern Union. Snead State will host this year’s ACCC Tournament.
“I think that us, Lawson, Wallace, Snead and Falkner will be up there, and Coastal East (formerly Jeff Davis) has gotten better,” said Clark.
The Lady Cardinals open their season this weekend with a tournament at Snead State. The team’s home opener is this Monday, Aug. 26 against Cleveland (Tenn.) State. Gadsden State begins conference play this Thursday (Aug. 29) at Coastal Alabama South in Bay Minette.