STARKVILLE — After two straight playoff seasons, Starkville High School”s volleyball team was primed to make a bigger splash in a new classification this season.
That was until third-year coach Lauren Love found out she”d be without three varsity underclassmen, including two starters, from the previous season.
Libero McKay Richardson moved to Virginia, outside hitter Elizabeth Scott transferred to Heritage Academy, and defensive specialist Priyanka Parajuli transferred to the Mississippi School for Math and Science.
The Lady Yellow Jackets also lost three seniors from last season”s squad that went 20-10.
But like any coach faced with personnel issues they can”t control, Love is focused on what she has this season.
“We can talk about it being losses or opportunities for other players,” Love said. “We look forward to the opportunities it presents. They”re gonna be in situations they haven”t been before. Their teammates are gonna look toward them to know the defense, know the spots, and make the plays. Responsibility will increase, and, hopefully, their court confidence will.”
The Lady Jackets, who started official team practice Monday, return starting defensive specialist Grace Drumheller and setter Wheeler Richardson, who enters her fourth straight year as a starter.
Wheeler Richardson”s return is especially vital to the development of freshman middle blocker Khristian Carr, the team”s most explosive player.
Carr played club volleyball in the offseason for the first time and looks forward to working with Richardson, who had 328 assists and a team-high 116 aces last season.
“I”m glad (Wheeler Richardson) stayed and I feel like I owe it to her to make this year a really good year,” Carr said. “Having her is going to help me so much.”
Carr finished the her eighth-grade junior varsity season with 84 kills and 42 digs. She has set a lofty goal of playing at NCAA powerhouse program Penn State. A Mississippi prep player has never signed a Division I scholarship, and though Carr knows she has a mountain to climb to make her dream a reality, she”s approaching each practice and game like it”s an audition.
“The first time I started playing club ball it kind of got me to thinking I don”t need to settle, especially with the skills I have,” Carr said. “I put a lot of stress on myself making that my goal, but it”s just a matter of pushing myself every time I play.”
Though just a freshman, Carr has embraced her role as a go-to player in the lineup.
“There”s a bit of nervousness looking out there and not seeing certain players,” Carr said. “But we all understand we have to step up. We don”t really have to talk about it.”
Despite a handful of experienced players, most of Starkville”s varsity roster has moved up from junior varsity. Most of the junior varsity players are new to the sport.
“We”ve got some varsity girls like Vicky Vo and Michaela Mills who played club and that helps tremendously,” Love said. “But, for the most part, we lost a lot of experience and a lot of years in volleyball in general.
“We always want a big hitter, but a great attitude on a defender is sometimes where you can get the momentum swing. When you can”t control height or what other team is doing, you can control heart and dedication and hustle.”
Starkville will open its season Aug. 5-6 in Jackson at the Set It Off Challenge.