By Chris McCarthy, Publisher/Editor
For the first time in program history, the Gadsden State volleyball team will play two seasons in one calendar year.
After the Alabama Community College Conference moved its 2020 fall and winter sports schedules from last fall to this past spring due to COVID-19 concerns, the Lady Cardinals went 6-12 overall and 5-9 in conference play. Gadsden State fell to Pearl River (Miss.) in the play-in match of the NJCAA Gulf Atlantic District Tournament in late March.
“It seems like we just got finished with one season and we’re starting another one,” said Connie Clark, who is entering her sixth year as head coach. “Although we didn’t get in many matches, I think the girls were just happy to play.”
Although five sophomores return from the spring, Clark noted that most of them did not see much court time.
“Because we only played 18 matches, those girls are inexperienced. So we’re very young all the way around. To compare, we played in 30 matches [in 2019].
Returning are setter Bliss Brown from Southside, libero Madalynn Owen from Decatur, outside hitter Tamara Garner from Huntsville, outside hitter Maegan Milligan from Moulton and middle blocker Savannah Manley from Addison.
In the spring season, Brown finished 231 assists, 100 digs and 10 aces. Owen had 96 digs, while Manley ended up with 106 kills and 48 digs. Milligan underwent shoulder surgery last fall and did not play in 2021. Manley broke her foot in preseason practice and is not expected back for a few more weeks.
“Maegan is back and is swinging pretty good,” said Clark. “Madalynn will see some of the floor on back row. Bliss was one of our setters last spring when we ran a 6-2, but we’ve moved her to defensive specialist. We’ll move her back to setter if something happens to Savanah (Free). Tam didn’t see a lot of playing time last year, but she’ll play some right side for us.”
Newcomers are defensive specialist Jade Bell from Westbrook Christian, outside hitter Moriah Seay from Prattville, outside hitter Morgan Moseley from West Morgan, middle blocker Sidney Peterson from Buckhorn, outside hitter Ashlyn Wright from Buckhorn, outside hitter Alexandria Ellis from Lee-Montgomery and setter Savanah Free from Danville.
“Moriah’s got a really good vertical jump and will play all three positions up front,” said Clark. “Morgan is injured right now, but once she’s recovered, I expect her to get some playing time. Sidney will be starting in the middle for us and look for her to do a really good job of blocking and hitting. I’m not really sure just yet where Ashlyn will play for us, but hopefully I can fit her into the middle. Alex will hopefully play some middle and right side for us, and Savanah will be our No. 1 setter. She’s a really good player, and we’re looking for her to be a leader as well.”
Knowing that her players lack experience, Clark scheduled four weekend tournaments this fall, including two out of state.
“None of these sophomores have ever traveled and spent the night [at a tournament], so I amped up the schedule a little bit,” she said. “I wanted the girls to experience a few tournaments out of our area.”
A 1989 West End High School graduate, Clark was a part of four straight state championship teams with the Lady Patriots. She attended Gadsden 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 Etowah 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 then moved to Gadsden State in 2007 as an assistant under Angie Sanders and was named head coach in July of 2016.
The Lady Cardinals’ ACCC competition includes Wallace State-Hanceville, Snead State, Coastal Alabama East, Coastal Alabama South, Wallace State-Selma, Bevill State, Lawson State, Bishop State, Southern Union and Lurleen B. Wallace. Wallace-Hanceville will host this year’s conference tournament.
Gadsden State opens the season on Monday, August 23 at Lawson State in Birmingham. The Lady Cardinals kick off their home schedule on September 13 against Lawson State.
“I think we’ll want to play for each other, so I think our team chemistry is good,” said Clark. “The kids who are just out of high school and excited to be here, and I think our sophomores will step up and be good leaders for us. If we can just get everybody healthy and keep them healthy, I think we’ll be okay.”