By Chris Parker
Hillcrest volleyball has been on the rise the past several seasons going from three wins in 2019 to six wins in 2020 to 12 wins last year. The double-digit wins were the first for the program since winning 25 in 2016.
“The team really pushed forward as a whole group, and focused on how they could excel as one unit, and it really made a difference in their success. The upperclassmen worked extremely hard to set a great example for the younger classes to follow,” Hillcrest head coach Deirdre Smith said. “We need to keep focusing on we instead of me. It sounds very cliché, but it is what helps Hillcrest grow as a community.”
The Lady Hornets return one of the Ozark Conference’s top hitters in senior Mackenzie Smith. She was named first-team all-conference after putting down 398 kills to lead Hillcrest last year. She also led the team with 52 aces.
“Mackenzie is an extremely smart hitter from both pins. She sees the court well, and she manipulates the ball well. Her volleyball IQ is so high, and she reads the game so well. She is a force from both pins,” Smith said. “I expect Mackenzie to be a leader on the floor like she always has been. She will push her younger teammates to be better each time they step on the court. She will be the person we look to for the big kill. We hope that she can achieve personal goals on the court this year as she holds herself to a very high standard.”
Tori McCullough will be the team’s libero in her senior season. She was second on the team in digs (375) and serve receptions (465) last year.
“Tori is my best communicator, and she is always there with a smile to encourage her teammates, and make them feel at ease in stressful situations,” Smith said. “Tori is extremely important in the backcourt, as she is one who will fight to keep the ball from hitting the floor.”
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Versatile senior Melanie Barrett returns to be a factor in all facets of the game. She led Hillcrest in digs (424) and serve receptions (496) while putting down 87 kills. Barrett will play outside hitter.
“Melanie Barrett will bring an amazing hustle to the floor,” Smith said. “Mel is quick, and we rely on her to make many big saves for us on defense.”
Adajah Caton (senior middle) and Natalie Percival (junior middle) both saw varsity action last year and will have more of an impact this year.
“Adajah Caton and Natalie Percival will add some height to the front row,” Smith said. “We hope to see them put up a big block and put down some big kills for us this season.”
Caitlin Armel will add height to the front row in her senior year. She will play right side.
Junior Haylyn Baker will play outside hitter in her first season on varsity.
“Haylyn Baker will make her varsity debut, and hopefully develop into a six-rotation player this season,” Smith said. “Haylyn’s role is vital for our success. She brings a quick swing, and some really amazing defense to the lineup.”
Karsyn Ryan will be a varsity hitter in her sophomore season.
“Karsyn Ryan will bring a deadly swing to the front row, and she should put up a big block for us, and post many aces for us with her serve,” Smith said. “We are really excited to see how Karsyn will develop this season.”
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Seniors Maddison Goodwin (hitter), Avery Marmon (defensive specialist) and Kirstan Van Horn (defensive specialist) along with junior Abigail Phillips (right side) will all look to contribute on varsity.
“If we can play really great defense, then we will be able to run our offense effectively. We have to work hard to continue the culture of being a family instead of a group of individuals. This concept has brought us great success,” Smith said. “We need to keep working on our offense. Hitters need to see the court better and work around the block as we face teams that are usually bigger than us.”
Hillcrest will host a jamboree at 5 pm on Aug. 23 with Bolivar, Buffalo and Osage. The Hornets open the regular season on Aug. 30 at home against Willow Springs.
“We would like to keep improving our record, and we hope to see more of our athletes go on to play at the college level. We want to keep building on the family concept that we have created,” Smith said. “We have an amazing group of freshman and JV players who are always working hard to make our program stronger. I am extremely proud of all of our athletes in our volleyball program.”