By Chris Parker
Mansfield volleyball won six matches last year in its return to the volleyball court for the first time since 2000.
The Lady Lions learned many lessons in their first season back playing varsity volleyball.
“The biggest lesson, by far, that we overcame as a team was learning the sport in general,” Mansfield head coach Emily Smith said. “The girls’ only experience was limited to very little in PE classes, so learning correct fundamentals, the rules, how to interact and communicate with one another, and just play volleyball was all new.”
Mansfield lost its first nine matches of the season in 2021, but went 6-15-1 the rest of the way. Many of the volleyball players have found success on both the basketball court and softball diamond, so struggling in the win-loss column was a new obstacle to overcome.
“Female sports at Mansfield have had winning seasons in recent years and most of the players know how winning feels, so another lesson that was a difficult hurdle was getting beat by most of our opponents,” Smith said. “Something I preached to the players was the difference between losing and getting beat. Losing is showing up expecting to lose; while getting beat is working your tail off but the outcome isn’t siding with us on that particular night. As the season continued we showed a ton of growth ending with a 6-24-1 record.”
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The Lady Lions graduated two seniors and return seven players who saw time on the varsity court last year. That group includes Logan Jones (senior S/OH), Lauren Jones (senior OH/OPP), Harleigh Hodges (senior MB), Sadee Greene (senior DS), Madison Hanger (junior DS/OH), Haven Tripp (sophomore MB) and Ali Robertson (sophomore DS).
Smith on Logan Jones: “(She) brings leadership and athleticism to every sport she plays. She’s a true athlete, a coach’s dream. She will be looked at to lead this team and carry more front row responsibilities this year.”
Smith on Lauren Jones: “(She) is a lefty that reads the ball very well on the back row and brings consistency in her six-rotation role. Lauren’s height and dominant left hand could be a difference maker for us on the front row this year.”
Smith on Hodges: “(She) was our only all-district selection from last year. Her hitting, blocking, and serving skills will be a huge asset to us this year. We will look to Harleigh to lead our offense and help us slow the ball down on defense.”
Smith on Greene: “(She) may wear the libero jersey for us this fall. She’s gaining confidence and control with each practice and summer match.”
Smith on Hanger: “(She) was last season’s libero, but this year may see more front row time. Madison brings spunk to our game. She’s not afraid to hit the floor after a ball and can help us gain points from her serve.”
Smith on Tripp: “(She) can jump out of the gym and will see herself playing more than the front row this year. She’s gained so much ground this summer in her passing game that she’ll be working towards playing all six rotations this fall.”
Smith on Robertson: “(She) has a bee-line serve that will be sought after this fall. She’s another contestant for the libero jersey in the upcoming season.”
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Hodges led the team in kills with 131 last season. Logan Jones led Mansfield in digs with 156 while her sister Lauren Jones was just behind her with 155 digs.
Kyra Thompson (junior setter), Laikyn Ball (sophomore defensive specialist) and Alyssa Bennet (junior defensive specialist) will step up on the varsity level this year.
Smith on Thompson: “(She) will be looked at to step up as Logan’s opposite setter this year. She saw some varsity action last year, but will be a major component in this year’s lineup. She brings hard work and effort into each practice and match.”
Smith on Ball: “(She) came into her own last season on the back row at the JV level and saw some varsity action late in the season. She will need to continue her growth in confidence and communication in hopes to gain a full time varsity role.”
Smith on Bennet: “(She) has really impressed the coaching staff this summer. She will definitely come off the bench for us and will be working towards a more permanent position.”
Senior Chloe Lemons and sophomore Cali Lemons will be new to the program this year.
Smith hopes experience gained last year will pay off with more wins this year.
“Our biggest strength this season will be our returning players,” Smith said. “We may be a new program but we have a solid core group of athletes that have the desire to win. Last summer we concerned ourselves with fundamentals and learning the game, but this summer we were able to focus on playing and competition and finding the best rotation to fit our needs.”
Communication will need to improve for Mansfield to find success this year.
“Being a new team/program we lack the experience of communicating together,” Smith said. “We are very quiet compared to other teams, but it’s hard to mimic something that you’ve never done before. We will need to talk more this year in order to accomplish the goals we have.”
Mansfield opens the season on Aug. 29 at Plato.