Cleveland volleyball coach Patricia Flowers is as excited as she has ever been as the season opener against Ooltewah approaches.
After a solid preseason, the Lady Raiders are looking for overall improvement in a district traditionally loaded with strong opponents.
“We looked good in the preseason, but we are young. The team chemistry is great. We have improved in several areas,” said an excited Flowers.
“We played Brentwood, who won the state tournament last year. We took a beating from them in the first game because we were a little bit scared. But the second game we only lost by three points. We played really smart.”
Leading the way for the Lady Raiders will be seniors Kayla Lee and Addie Strode. Both feel their leadership combined with club ball experience and depth will make a difference as the season moves forward.
“We are a young team but we have a lot of depth. We have a lot of girls who have played club ball and I think we are very experienced in that area. I think we will be a good, strong team this year,” Strode said. “I expect to bring leadership to the team, No. 1. Kayla and I are seniors and being a leader is one of our No. 1 jobs on the court. We need to lead the girls and mentor them since we are such a young team.”
Lee echoed the sentiment expressed by Strode and added the Lady Raiders will be solid with girls who can fill the empty spots left by last year’s departing seniors.
“We are a young team but I feel we can accomplish a lot. We practice hard and we’ve learned a lot. I feel we can go far. We lost a lot of people, but there are people who came back that can help. There are people who can step into the empty spots and do a good job for us,” said Lee. “I think helping the younger girls out is going to be very important. Addie and I have been here the longest, and I think we can help the others out.”
Flowers is also counting on the play of juniors Allison Botts, Kellee Geren and Silje Thoresen, a foreign exchange student from Norway, to help the Lady Raiders take care of business on the court, particularly against traditional foes like Walker Valley and Bradley Central.
“Our district is similar to the way it always looks. We always come down to three or four teams. Walker Valley is pretty scrappy. They look better than they have looked in a few years,” said the coach.
As far as height is concerned, Flowers feels the size of her lineup will be sufficient enough to make a difference when the time comes.
“We are good in the height department. Amber Morman is 6-foot-2 and most of our front row is 5-10, 5-11. This is probably the most height we’ve had overall since I’ve been coaching. Our biggest blocker in the middle is Allison Botts, and she is 5-7. She jumps really high,” said Flowers. “We’ve got stong passing in the back row with Kayla as our libero. She’s got a lot of experience, she’s been playing since she was a freshman. Her little sister, Lauren, is a sophomore and will be the replacement libero when Kayla is out. One of the first things the Lady Raiders have on their agenda is pulling off an opening day win over Ooltewah. Strode and the Lady Raiders are looking forward to the challenge and feel the talent is there to open with a victory.
“We are a young team but we have a lot of height. I think we will go far. We are a very smart team. we know how to place the ball, and we study our teams really well.
“I think we will go far this year,” said Strode. “One of the goals we have is to beat Ooltewah. Last year they were undefeated, they are our first game and we are looking to end that streak for them.”