Story and photos by Mark Carpenter –
Going into the fourth year of her second stint as the head coach of the West Union Lady Dragons varsity volleyball, Coach Debbie McClanahan brings to the court a team low in numbers but high in optimism for the 2016 campaign. McClanahan led the Lady Dragons from 1993-2002, then returned to the sidelines in 2012.
Competition with other fall sports and extra-curricular activities at the high school have left the volleyball roster somewhat depleted heading into the start of the regular season, with only 10 available players at the high school level at the time of the team’s Aug. 1 opening practice. Even that practice was difficult with four varsity girls being absent because of vacations, injuries, and other activities.
“We are basically going to be one high school squad this year,” said McClanahan. “We have one senior returning (Kendall Gallowitz) with a lot of varsity experience, then we have Brittany Caldwell and Gloria Purdin moving up as our other two seniors. We have one junior, Sianna Mills, getting her first varsity experience. The sophomores we have who have some varsity time are Alex Clark, Kiersten Rowe, and Jaycee Baldwin. Mackenzie Bickett is coming back this season after missing last year for an injury and Houston Adkins played JV last season with a little taste of varsity at the end of the year.”
McClanahan will be looking to the senior Gallowitz to take over a large leadership role with the 2016 squad. “We have worked hard all summer helping Kendall get that desire for the kill,” says the West Union head coach. “She has improved in that area and in her blocking, which is something she will absolutely have to do this year. Kendall is an excellent kid and she is stepping up in a senior leadership role for us with her always positive attitude.
“Brittany Caldwell will probably see a lot of action as a setter and in some defensive role and she has a good serve which we will definitely use. Gloria Purdin is probably our shortest player, but she will surprise people with her hitting ability”
With the low numbers, the Lady Dragons will obviously be forced to make some adjustments in the way they play.
“We are not a very big team, height wise, so we will have to be a defensive team, a hustling team, and we will really have to work,” says McClanahan. “We have got to be able to return any hit that comes our way and then we will have to surprise other teams by being able to move the ball and get the best hit we can. We just have to keep the ball in play. I have to design what kind of play we are going to use this year to the talent that I have. So we are going to do some things differently this year because I can’t do it the typical way.”
“Our core group of players have had a year of varsity experience together and they play well together, but our numbers are so small which so limits us. A lot will depend on how healthy we stay. That is just where we are at.”
When asked what she thinks will be her team’s biggest strength, McClanahan says, “These kids have each other’s backs, they help each other, and they are all willing to work hard.”
“This is a rebuilding year for us because last year we had some seniors but some of our sophomores now have played some club ball and been in some tough situations, which will help us in the long run.”
Coach McClanahan, as do many others, sees the North Adams Lady Devils as the team to beat in the Southern Hills Athletic Conference. “There are a lot of schools in the conference that are rebuilding like us, in the same situation that we are,” says McClanahan. “I look for Fairfield to be pretty good this year and last year Lynchburg was the most improved team. With so many teams just like us, I think we can be competitive.”