By Blake Ells
Briarwood Christian’s 2018 volleyball team faces an uphill battle.
The Lions return just two players from last year’s squad, and as they typically have, they’ll play up to a lot of 6A and 7A competition in the Birmingham area, including their opening match against 6A Pelham. But the latter is something to which they’ve grown accustomed.
“I’ve been on the varsity team since I was a freshman,” said setter Kaley Bruce. “So the competition level isn’t different, but the girls are different because we’re the only ones left.”
She was speaking of herself and outside hitter Anna Grace Pattillo.
“We’ve got a great group of sophomores,” said coach Jeff Robertson. “A lot of our girls play club, so they may not have the varsity experience, but they have playing experience. They’re just going to have to adjust to the speed of the game.”
Among that young talent are middle blockers Caroline Mays and Emma Crawford. Robertson also expects big things from a young setter named Maddie Vaughn. Mays and Vaughn played varsity basketball for the Lions as freshmen, and Crawford ran track. Robertson and his seniors expect Crawford to make a name for herself on the court this season.
“She’s got a lot of drive,” Pattillo said. “(Younger players will) have to take responsibility and learn to be accountable for things. They don’t understand the hard work that goes into varsity.”
Robertson has turned over much of his coaching to his two seniors. As they prepare for the new season, Bruce and Pattillo lead not just by example, but vocally.
“We have given them the authority to stop a practice and take control,” he said. “To take leadership; to say, ‘That ball can’t hit the floor. Do some pushups.’”
In 13 years with Briarwood’s program and three with the varsity program, this may be Robertson’s most inexperienced team. But he’s confident that, with leadership from girls such as Bruce and Pattillo, the Lions can have success in 2018. It won’t always be easy, though.
“We’re stressing buying in,” he said. “We play a fairly tough schedule and there’s going to be some rough nights. We’ll take that and build on it so come area tournament time, we’ll be firing on all cylinders.”
This season, they’ll travel to tournaments at Brooks and Guntersville in North Alabama in addition to playing familiar 5A foes such as Ramsay and Woodlawn. They’ll get underway Aug. 23, when they host Pelham.