Photo: Paige Collier, Kandyn Blankenship and Moriah Seay (from left) man the back row during a recent Gadsden State volleyball practice. (Chris McCarthy/Messenger)
By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
A priority for first-year Gadsden State volleyball coach Courtney Brothers is for the Lady Cardinals to extend their postseason by a few games.
Last year’s team went 0-2 at the Alabama Community College Conference Tournament. Gadsden State went 11-21 overall last season and 10-12 in ACCC action.
Brothers pointed to the Lady Cardinals’ failure to close out tight games as a major factor in the team’s early playoff exit.
“The main goal is to be competitive in every game and every match that we play,” she said. “Our sophomores know that they dropped a lot of matches [by scores of] 2-1 and 3-2, and they’ve been talking about winning [a match] in three [games] or make it to that fifth game and pull it out. I got to watch them a few times last season, and it wasn’t like they were getting blown out in any match. They just couldn’t find a way to finish.
“Volleyball’s a roller-coaster sport, and every team has its up and downs. You’ve just got to figure out a way to close it out. I also think we’re very well-conditioned, which should help us pull out a win in those long back and forth matches.”
A 2001 Southside High graduate, Brothers played softball for two years at Gadsden State before graduating from JSU. She coached the Southside High volleyball team for the past seven seasons and guided the 2021 team to a 45-13 record, a 12th straight Etowah County Schools Tournament championship and an appearance at the Class 6A Super Regional Tournament.
“This group is doing a good job of gelling together,” she said. “They’re all living in the dorms together, so they’ve gotten to know one another really well.” With the team’s relative lack of height, Brothers will emphasize passing and defense to keep an opponent at bay.
“We’re not that big, so we’ve got play defense really well and be lot quicker that the other team. We’ve also got to able to outsmart the other team with setting up plays they won’t be expecting.”
Brothers has eight sophomores and nine freshmen at her disposal.
Upperclassmen include 2021 Southside graduate and setter Bliss Brown, who finished with 334 digs and 48 assists last season; setter Savanah Free (901 assists, 302 digs, 45 kills, 30 aces); outside hitter Moriah Seay (373 kills, 241 digs, 27 aces, 13 blocks); middle blocker Sidney Peterson (185 kills, 50 digs, 47 blocks, 30 aces); outside hitter Maegan Milligan (162 kills, 179 digs, 28 aces); outside hitter Morgan Mosely (62 kills, 44 digs); middle hitter Alex Ellis and DS/libero Jade Bell (54 digs).
“Bliss took a COVID year, and we’re looking for her to step in a leadership role this season,” said Brothers. “I coached her in high school, and I know her expectations. She’s a hustler and a hard worker and brings a lot of energy to our offense. Bliss and Savanna are very different setting-wise, but they pass very well and give our hitters a lot of options. Those are two very smart players who make good decisions on the floor. Moriah has a vertical [jump] that is out of this world. She’s really improved her passing from last year, and we’re excited about her playing all the way around. It doesn’t matter if the ball is in the bleachers; she’ll get after it.
“Sidney’s a big body up at the front line for us. [Opponents] don’t expect her to hit the ball very hard, and she’ll put a ball down at the 10-foot line. Maegan is another one that has come a long way, and she’s a good little hitter for us on the right side. She also blocks very well. Morgan has been really focusing on her passing, and she also will surprise [opponents] on the front row. Jade reads the ball well and is very quick on the back row and gets to a lot of balls. Alex is very forceful on the front row and has a very good block.”
Three of the newcomers are local in Southside’s Keelan Vice and DS Ziniah Hardy and Ashville’s Sera Beth Potter. Vice compiled 834 kills, 243 digs, 189 blocks and 136 aces during her high school career, while Hardy ended up with 607 digs, 302 kills and 122 aces. They were a part of two area championship teams and helped Southside advance to the super regionals three out of the past four years.
A four-year starter at outside hitter for the Lady Bulldogs, Potter totaled 1,443 kills for her varsity career.
“All three of those girls played in spring club ball for several seasons, so they got a taste of what college volleyball is like,” said Brothers. “I think they’ll do very well in our program, and I’m very excited about what they’ll bring to the table.”
Rounding out the freshmen class are DS Paige Collier, hitter Lauren Davis, hitter Madison Williams, hitter Karley Boyd, DS Kandyn Blankenship and DS Zoe Walker.
“Paige has played a lot of beach volleyball, so she’s very quick at getting to the ball,” said Brothers. “Lauren and Madison are very smart players who blocks very well on the front row. Karley passes very well, and Kaydn and Zoe both cover the floor really well.”
Gadsden State’s ACCC competition includes Bevill State, Bishop State, Coastal Alabama East, Coastal Alabama South, Enterprise State, Lawson State, L.B. Wallace, Southern Union, Wallace-Selma, Snead State and defending state champion Wallace-Hanceville, which has won 12 of the last 13 conference tournaments.
“We actually competed very well against Wallace this spring, so we’ll see how that goes,” said Brothers. “Every match counts, in this conference, so we’ve got to be ready willing to go out there and compete day in and day out.”
Gadsden State opens the season on Monday, August 22 at Southern Union. The Lady Cardinals’ first home match is on Thursday, August 25 against Lawson State.