By Rubin E. Grant
The Mountain Brook volleyball team might have taken a step down in classification, but don’t expect the Spartans to take a step back.
After winning the Alabama High School Athletic Association Class 7A state championship in 2019 with a senior-laden team, led by Player of the Year Grace Carr, Mountain Brook has been reclassified as Class 6A.
The Spartans set a school record with 59 victories last year, but gone from that team are Carr, an outside hitter; the Vandevelde twins, Ann, a setter, and Liz, a libero; outside hitter Mary Katherine Fowlkes; and middle hitter Kate Amberson.
“We basically had the same group of kids in the first three years I’d been here, except for one or two new ones second year,” Mountain Brook coach Vickie Nichols said. “This is the first year I’m replacing half a team.
“We’ll have six new people, but we have a core of four very good players coming back.”
That core includes senior outside hitter Celie Field, senior libero Evelyn King, and junior middle hitters Greer Golden and Hannah Hitson.
“Those girls have been showing in practice that they can carry the load,” Nichols said. “I’ve been very impressed with them. Having Hannah and Greer back in the middle is great. I am really excited about them.”
With Carr gone, Nichols has to find someone to join Field at outside hitter. The top two choices are senior Lilly Gilbert and junior Lucy Redden.
“Lilly didn’t play with us last year, but she started for us two years ago so I am excited to have her back,” Nichols said. “She’s a hard worker. Lucy is very athletic, and she can also play right side or middle.”
Sophomore Sims Kilgore is the likely starter at right side hitter.
“She played on the varsity last year as a freshman and she’s still growing as a player,” Nichols said.
Replacing Ann Vandevelde as setter has been another priority for Nichols.
“We’ve got three girls who we’re working in that spot,” Nichols said. “They are all capable, but we’re trying to figure out who will start.”
Sophomore Alaina Long, who was the backup setter as a freshman, might be the favorite to start, but she has strong competition from junior Anna Betah and freshman Hannah Parant.
Rounding out the roster are senior utility player Megan Lee and junior defensive specialist Alexandra Carlson.
The Spartans will open the season Thursday at home against John Carroll Catholic and will compete in the Juanita Boddie Tournament Friday and Saturday at the Finley Center in Hoover.
Although Mountain Brook has moved down a class and won’t have to contend with 7A powers McGill-Toolen and Hoover, the Spartans will face stiff competition in Class 6A.
Among the top teams in 6A are two-time defending class champion Spanish Fort; Hazel Green, which has reached the Class 6A title match three of the past four seasons; Jasper, which won the Class 5A crown in 2019 and is moving up; Pelham; and Hartselle.
“It’s going to be a fight for us, but it should be fun,” Nichols said. “We’re looking forward to it.
“I know some people are underestimating us because of the players we lost, but we’ve got some good girls on our team and they are working hard. I think we’re going to be fine and we’ll find a way to win.”