By Blake Ells
Just one senior – Libby Grace Gann – departed Mountain Brook last season, and this year, the Spartans’ volleyball team will have none.
But a large junior class is moving in to help the Spartans surpass last year’s season, in which the team fell in the state semifinals to McGill-Toolen 3-0.
“Every day we come in, we know how last year ended,” said junior setter Ann Vandevelde. “That we ended in three sets. We have a big junior class and our class tries to lead practice every day to make this team the best that it can be.”
Coach Vickie Nichols took over the squad on short notice last season upon the departure of former coach Haven O’Quinn. O’Quinn took the head coaching job at Birmingham-Southern College after capturing three consecutive state championships with the Spartans. That transition created a bit of turnover on the squad, but after a year together and a successful run, Nichols and her players have grown to know each other well.
“We now understand each other,” she said. “I was new to them and they were new to me. They’ve matured mentally and emotionally, and I think we realize what we want to do together. You can’t have seven leaders, but when one is having a bad day, someone else always steps up. We’ve got a lot of talent and we’re having a lot of fun.”
Those seven leaders are the seven juniors on the team, a massive class that Vandevelde assures “takes up the whole court.”
“Everybody is stepping up in different ways,” said outside hitter Grace Carr. “Some of us are louder than others. Some of us are quieter, but they speak through their actions.”
It’s personality that will define their season and how each girl plays an important role in their success.
“We’re all seven completely different people, and we’re each bringing something different to practice,” said Vandevelde.
Ann’s twin sister, Liz, also is a part of this junior class as libero, along with Ellie Dayhuff as middle blocker. Ann will move to setter for the first time.
“My whole club season, I set,” she said. “It’s a little different, but having spent time at club and seeing Libby Grace (Gann) last year, not a lot has to change.”
Vandevelde and Carr are also both expecting early contributions from freshman middle blocker Greer Golden. “Sometimes we forget she’s 13-years-old,” Nichols said.
Carr is going to be counted on. While all seven juniors will play an important role, Nichols is hoping Carr will lead.
“She has to be depended upon. She can’t have a bad day,” Nichols said.
“One of our words is to be resilient,” Carr said of the Spartans’ quest to better last season’s finish. “I need to bounce back fast because if I don’t, it’s going to hurt my team.”
Mountain Brook will open its season Aug. 28 at Bob Jones.