By Rubin E. Grant
Amanda Wood is ready to embark on the next phase of her volleyball coaching career, although the beginning was somewhat bumpy.
Wood was hired as Hoover’s new coach in February after spending the past 10 years at James Clemens in Madison, but it took her a few months to find a place to live near her new school.
“I am not going to lie to you, from February to May, it was a little rough, driving back and forth,” Wood said, “but once I moved here it’s been smooth sailing.”
The Bucs officially begin preseason practice for the 2022 season Monday and open the season April 18 with a tri-match at Helena that also includes Chelsea.
Wood replaces Chris Camper, who retired after 22 years as a head coach, including the past 10 at Hoover. He led the Bucs to the 2020 Class 7A state championship with a 50-1 record.
Camper and Wood have spoken frequently since Wood took over.
“We’re besties,” Wood said. “We talk all the time. He probably wishes he could delete me from his list of contacts.”
Wood played volleyball at Muscle Shoals, where she won a state title, and in college at the University of Alabama Huntsville. She took over the James Clemens program in 2012 when the school opened. It was her first head coaching job. She compiled a 254-202 record and led James Clemens to five regional appearances. The Jets finished the 2021 season 29-21 and reached the Class 7A regional tournament.
“It was a tough decision to move because of my players, my peers and the support I had from the administration and the Madison community,” Wood said. “But a job like Hoover doesn’t come open very often and I knew Andy Urban (Hoover’s athletics director).
“It’s a step I knew would be beneficial for my career and it came at the right time.”
Hoover has one of the top volleyball programs in the state, a “powerhouse program,” as Wood describes it. The Bucs earned a spot in the state championship tournament eight of the past 10 seasons with three appearances in the state title match.
Wood hopes to continue that success.
She has had a busy summer getting to know her players.
“We’ve looked good,” Wood said. “We finished team camp and it was a good experience. We had workouts from 6 a.m. to 8 a.m. and there were zero complaints. The girls showed up and worked hard.”
The Bucs also have been playing in the Power League, an idea created by Camper for teams from the Birmingham area to scrimmage against each other. Among 12 teams in the league are defending Class 7A champion Spain Park and defending Class 6A champion Mountain Brook.
“It’s been a very strong league this year,” Wood said. “It’s been a good challenge.”
Putting Together a Team
Wood has nine seniors on her team – Peyton David, Adair Byars, Reagan James, Lauren Ware, Elise Hart, Bella Muenster, Maggie Harris, Reese Hawkins and Alan Alanah Pooler.
David is a libero; Byars and James are outside hitters/right-side hitters; Ware, Hart and Guenster are defensive specialists; Harris is a setter; and Hawks and Pooler are middle blockers.
“Most of them had a taste of playing last year, but I don’t know if you can say any of them are returning starters,” Wood said.
Juniors Grace Johnston, right-side/middle blocker; Kendyl Mitchell, outside hitter/right-side; and Kenzie Richards, middle blocker, round out the roster with sophomore Sydney Durban, defensive specialist.
“We have several underclassmen who could make the team, but we have only 15 jerseys,” Wood said.
Wood believes the Bucs’ biggest challenge will be finding a court leader, the way Rya McKinnon, a high school All-American, was last year. She is now at Howard University.
“They were used to Rya being the go-to player but now some of them are realizing they have to be the go-to player and step up,” Wood said. “That’s not a surprise, but I think it opens doors for different people.”
Hoover will compete in Class 7A, Area 5 along with Oak Mountain, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County.
“My expectations are for us to be competitive,” Wood said. “Our girls will be well prepared, and they enjoy each other, which has been refreshing to see.”