By R. Alan Richardson
It wasn’t that long ago that a Sweet 16 appearance for the Lady Spike Dogs was unheard of. Now, it’s commonplace; a spot that the program has become accustomed to being in. What’s not unheard of is facing another high-profile private school in that round and finding out how difficult it is to compete against schools that have an advantage in finances, resources, facilities, and…did anyone mention…players?
It’s like a broken record for some of the Morgan County sports teams. Morgan County (22-11) went up against AAA’s number two ranked Westminster Lady Wildcats (25-14) and came up short losing in three sets 25-18, 25-11, and 25-13. It was another successful campaign for Coach Olivia Daniell’s squad as they finish up as the number eight ranked AAA team in the state. The second-year coach brought her young team into the season with a few questions and a lineup devoid of seniors. Wait till next year may sound like a cliché, but this team can truly believe in that old saying.
Morgan County took a third place finish in the 8-AAA Area Tournament into the State Playoffs winning their first round before bowing out. The Lady Dogs easily disposed of second seeded North Murray in the first round in straight sets 25-12, 26-24, and 25-15.
Daniell was kind enough to talk about the season and reflect on what this special team has accomplished. Below are her answers to our questions.
1. What was season and Region record? What were the scores of the two matches?
Season Record: 22-11
Region Record: 7-4
North Murray: 25-12, 26-24, 25-15
Westminster: 18-25, 25-11, 25-13
2. Did your team have an off day vs Westminster or are they just very good? Who played well for us?
We played some of the best volleyball I’ve seen the girls play. It was phenomenal. Westminster is just that good. They have quite a few athletes that will undoubtedly play D1 College ball. We came out very strong against them, but just didn’t have the stamina to continue to compete at that level. That’s the problem when you get high into the state playoffs and reach the private schools.
Honestly, everyone played well. Brooke Butler had an incredible match. She stayed on the court for every single play. Her defense was incredible and she (probably- haven’t done stats yet) led the team in digs as well as kills- which is pretty incredible to lead in an offensive and defensive stat. Makenzie Pitzer was effective on offense, as was Emma Silvey. Presley Hill also had a great game. To be honest- every girl had a great showing. They held their own against a tough team.
3. How would you describe the two matches and the team’s play against North Murray and Westminster?
We played very well against North Murray. The girls were fired up and ready to go and showed it on the court. They came out swinging hard and playing scrappy and it shows in the score. We got a little comfortable in the second set and let up a little bit, but came back out ready to shut it down in the third. They played as a team and really had some fun out there. As I said earlier, we really and truly did play extremely well against Westminster.
4. What were your thoughts on the two series overall?
I think we played well overall. I think the girls represented Morgan County and our program well. We got a tough slice of the bracket but that’s the way it goes sometimes. I’m so proud of the girls for not laying down and taking a loss when they found out they had to play Westminster. They fought back up until the very last point.
5. Are they better than our region’s top teams? Can Westminster win it all? How do they compare to Jackson County and Jefferson? Do you have any predictions about the championship?
Westminster is certainly better than any team we’ve seen this year-they always are. My prediction is that Westminster will win it all. They’re the #1 team in the best Area of AAA. I believe they won last year as well- and in seasons before that I’m sure. They traditionally have a solid program.
6. What were some of the season’s successes? Where do you feel the program is right now?
I would count this season as a success. Our record may not be as good as last year, but Carrie McClain and I intentionally scheduled tough teams, such as Athens Academy, Eastside, Oconee-who will challenge us and make us better so a lesser record was to be expected. We had some big wins over those teams, specifically Athens Academy and Oconee. In my seasons of coaching (last year and this year) we had never beaten Athens Academy until this year on our home court. We always play Oconee tight and split with them this season but did have a big win over them at their gym on their senior night. We played three tight matches but the girls fought hard and we pulled out the win. We had a few tough losses too- certainly to Jackson County and Jefferson in the Area. We had high hopes to win our Region again this year and it was definitely tough to not have those wins under our belt.
7. You have some solid players returning and no seniors. Can next year’s squad be better than this year?
It feels good to not lose any seniors this year! I do believe next year’s squad will be improved from this year’s. Almost all of the girls on the varsity squad play club ball in the offseason so that is definitely helpful in keeping their skills fresh and improving in their weak areas.
8. Who will continue to be your most impactful players?
I truly believe every player on the team makes a positive impact. Brooke Butler, Makenzie Pitzer, Emma Silvey and McKenzie Larate will be big players offensively for sure. Sam Crowley, Brooke Butler, Presley Hill will all be assets on the defensive sides as well. Gracie Christian, Faith Heusser, Reagan McClain and Taylor Frederick all made strong showings on the court and I have all the confidence in the world that they will next year.
9. Are there any possible new faces for 2020 possibly joining you from MCMS?
I’m not really sure. I know the Middle School has a great team, but with the baby this season, I didn’t have a chance to go to any games. I’m sure there are some solid eighth graders coming up!
10. How would you describe this past season? Are there any points you would like to make that we haven’t discussed?
Overall, I think we had a great season. I do think we experienced some growing pains for a few different reasons- we lost an important team leader in Bailey Shultz last year and had to learn to adjust to that and I missed half of the season with our first child so that was hard for me. But I think they were just that- growing pains. They hurt for a while and then when you look back- there was tremendous growth. The season didn’t turn out how we had hoped- with a Region Championship and maybe another Elite Eight appearance, but I don’t think anyone can make the argument that there wasn’t growth and some good volleyball in there too.