The 2020 volleyball season is slated to tip off in three weeks, and the Lenoir City High School Lady Panthers are ready to get started.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association Board of Control on July 8 announced non-contact sports, such as volleyball, will be allowed to start the season on time while following state health and safety guidelines in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Bill Lee last week issued Executive Order No. 55 to allow teams to resume contact in practices.
“Up to this point, we’ve been doing smaller group drills and things, trying to keep the girls in groups of eight or nine,” Bryan Lynn, LCHS head volleyball coach, said. “With this stuff going forward, we’ll be able to play 6-on-6 on a court, being able to scrimmage between varsity and JV and that’ll be good to help the girls get some more actual playing time rather than just doing drills. You still need that practice of playing against another opponent — you need somebody on that other side of the court that’s blocking and hitting balls at you. It’ll be really good going forward from here.”
Lenoir City will not be able to play preseason matches, which is a minor blow for Lynn.
“We had two scrimmages and a jamboree scheduled over the next couple of weeks, and we’ve had to cancel both of those,” he said. “It’s unfortunate that we’ll miss the jamboree because it’s a good time to evaluate where you’re at against an opponent that’s not just your girls that have been in the gym all summer. You’re playing against someone different, and the girls always react differently when they’re in that situation as well.”
The Lady Panthers are starting to transition back into “volleyball mode.”
“The last couple of days in practice, we’ve kind of opened it up a little bit and tried to do more 6-on-6 type of drills,” Lynn said. “We’re playing competitive games among the group. There’s a game we call ‘Bingo, Bango, Bongo’ that simulates a faster-paced game. We’re not really serving and all those things, but it’s a fast-paced 6-on-6 game that gets their juices really flowing. The girls really enjoy it, and it pushes them to be more competitive.”
“It’s been really good just actually playing JV versus varsity,” Sydney Cook, LCHS senior, added. “It’s been really beneficial, and we’ve been getting a lot more competitive lately. I think that’s how we’re going to go out and play now because we’re actually playing volleyball.”
Lynn is entering his second year at the helm and will field a roster mixed with experienced upperclassmen and raw freshmen.
“We’ve got seven freshman, and I think right now I’ve got at least three or four of those that will be playing the varsity level,” he said. “We’ve got some seniors that will kind of be the anchors of the group.”
The Lady Panthers will be led by the senior trio of Cook, Olivia Elliott and Briana Hiers.
“We just want to stay a team and just stay together even though we can’t technically stay together because of COVID,” Elliott said. “We want to make sure that we don’t break and that we remain together through everything.”
“Olivia Elliott’s been our biggest weapon, and she’ll be our biggest weapon this year,” Lynn added. “Of course, Sydney as our setter, and then Bri will be our libero, so those are the three core individuals. Two freshmen will fill in as hitters, and then there’s a couple of freshmen and sophomores that will fill in, too. The biggest thing is we’re just going to be really, really young and not a whole lot of experience. It’s going to be trial by fire, especially with no scrimmages.”
The Lady Panthers face another daunting district schedule against Maryville, Farragut, William Blount and Hardin Valley.
“Our district is just what our district is, and it’s just brutal,” Lynn said. “With the Heritages, the Farraguts, the Hardin Valleys, Maryville, William Blount, those five teams are just really solid teams year in and year out. They’re going to compete at the state level every year, so those will be tough challenges. I think that’s going to be a level of volleyball that, especially the freshmen girls have never seen. That will be interesting to see how they react to that.”
Lenoir City’s first match will be at 6 p.m. Aug. 18 at Karns High School.