The Loudon High School Lady Redskins volleyball team officially kicked off the 2019 campaign Saturday by competing in a jamboree at Sequoyah High School.
“We had a great outing on Saturday, I thought,” Jody Bunch, LHS head volleyball coach, said. “Our communication was better than it’s ever been. Our serve-receive needs a little work, but it was better than it was in practice. Mostly, we did great on the out-of-system things. We had some freshmen step up. Our freshman setter did great. Our back row stepped up, so I was pretty pleased all around.”
The Lady Redskins rotated throughout the day to face a variety of teams, including Polk County and Tellico Plains high schools and District 5-2A rival Roane County High School.
Bunch was pleased with her team’s ability to step up, which is something she hasn’t seen from previous Lady Redskin teams.
“They (Roane County) were our biggest competition,” Bunch said. “We seemed to rise to the occasion. I think we play down to people that are lower than us, but we played our game finally. I’ve been waiting on it for a couple of years.”
Since winning the District 5-2A championship in 2016, the Lady Redskins struggled to string together 10 wins the last two seasons.
Bunch believes those problems should be alleviated this season even with an inexperienced team.
“They have a lot more chemistry than they’ve had in the past,” she said. “There’s definitely none of the high school drama that we’ve kind of faced. None of them have playing experience together. I think that usually hurts a team, but it’s helped because they’re starting to play their game, learn their positions, lines of what they could do, should do. They’re playing cohesively, which is something I was kind of worried about going into the playday because at camp, it wasn’t there.”
The Lady Redskins recently received a new addition to the team that is already paying dividends.
Sydney Smith is a big-time hitter that transferred to Loudon earlier this summer from Lake Orion High School in Michigan.
“It was mostly my parents’ decision,” Smith said. “We’ve had a house down here since 2005 and we wanted to get away from the very harsh winters of Michigan. It’s definitely a big difference from Michigan, but I really love all the girls. All the girls are really kind, and they all have really high potential. I think it’ll be really fun this year.”
Smith helped the Lady Dragons capture the Division 1 Michigan state title last season and was voted to the Division 1 All-State team as a hitter. In the state championship match, she recorded seven kills and 11 digs.
Bunch believes she will make an immediate impact in District 5-2A play.
“I cannot put that into words,” Bunch said. “She has helped our team step up immensely, not only just with her play, but in practice. She’s willing to help others learn and show the younger kids, teach them better sling techniques and just up the intensity level.”
Although a new face, Smith has already taken a leadership role and wants to fill in where she can to help ensure success.
“I think my strength is that I’m very outgoing, a very outspoken leader,” Smith said. “I don’t just hit, but I’m a (defensive specialist) and I’m a setter. I can do any position, so I think that’s a big asset to the team. I think I have a lot to offer.”
The Lady Redskins will compete in their final preseason scrimmage Saturday at Anderson County High School, which will allow Bunch to address minor issues before the start of the season Aug. 20 against Clinton High School.
“We definitely need to work more on our back row play and defensive rotation,” Bunch said. “We didn’t face a whole lot of big hitters this weekend. Our district is kind of lacking that, but we will face some people outside of our district that have big hits. We want our team to be able to handle that. We’ve not faced a lot of big hitters like Sydney, but hopefully that will propel us and move our offense faster.”
Smith’s primary goal is to bring a state title back to Loudon.
“For this season, I want to win championships around here and get another ring,” she said. “That’s what I want is for the whole team to experience that because you’ll never forget the moment for the rest of your life.”