By Rubin E. Grant
Chris Camper teaches social studies, but he knows a thing or two about chemistry, especially as it relates to team sports.
As he embarks on his seventh season as Hoover’s volleyball coach, Camper believes he has the right blend of youth and experience to make the Bucs a Class 7A contender this season.
“We’re excited,” Camper said. “We’ve got great senior leadership and some talented young players. And our chemistry is some of the best we’ve ever had, if not the best.”
That’s saying something since the Bucs reached the Elite Eight the past four years and advanced to the finals twice with a core group of players that included outside hitter Paige Shaw, setter Jamie Gregg and libero Savannah Gibbs.
Those three, who were all named to the 2017 All Over the Mountain Journal Team, graduated along with Brayden Williams and Anna Marie Auchmuty after leading Hoover to a 31-10 season this past fall.
The Bucs will have five seniors on the team this season, including three who saw considerable time on the court last year — setter Amiyah King, right-side hitter Caroline Raybon and outside hitter-defensive specialist MacKenzie Martin. The other two seniors are middle hitter Bayley Thornton and defensive specialist Brooke Hoven.
Camper expects Hoven to miss most of the season because of a knee injury.
“The doctor said she may be able to return by October,” Camper said. “That’s a big blow because she is one our best defensive specialists and one of our best passers.”
Heading the Bucs’ strong group of young players are 6-foot-3-inch sophomore Gabrielle Essix and 5-foot-9-inch freshman Rya McKinnon. McKinnon’s dad, Ronald McKinnon, played in the NFL and is an assistant football coach at Miles College.
“We’re expecting big things from Gabby,” Camper said. “She’s incredibly athletic.
“Rya started as an eighth-grader last year at middle hitter, but we’re moving her outside. She’ll be our main outside hitter. I’m excited about watching her grow as a player and person.”
Two more sophomores expected to be big contributors are 6-foot-1-inch middle hitter Melodie Jones and setter Aly Durban. Jones is the younger sister of former Hoover star Maya Jones, and Durban’s mother, Michelle Durban, is the former Samford volleyball coach.
Junior libero Amelia Auchmuty is expected to anchor the Bucs’ defense.
Hoover will compete in a revamped Class 7A, Area 5 this season along with Oak Mountain, Thompson and Tuscaloosa County. Oak Mountain replaces Hoover arch-rival Vestavia Hills, which has moved to Area 6. Even without the Rebels, Camper expects Area 5 to be highly competitive.
“Oak Mountain lost a lot of seniors, but they will still be good,” Camper said. “Thompson will be very good, probably in the top 5 teams in 7A. They are very athletic, and coach Judy Green does a good job.”
Hoover opens its season Aug. 23 at home against Vestavia Hills. The Bucs will visit cross-town rival Spain Park on Aug. 28.
Camper isn’t making any predictions about how far the Bucs will go this season. He’s more concerned with how his team plays game in and game out.
“The biggest thing for us is to always maximize what we do,” Camper said. “We want to be the best we can be. We’ve got some tremendous talent and some great young players. We want to go out and play our very best. At the end of the season, if we are playing our best, the results will take care of themselves.”
Look for volleyball previews of Briarwood, John Carroll, Mountain Brook, Oak Mountain, and Spain Park in our next issue.