HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State volleyball has a lot of new faces set to take the court this season, and coach Randy Daniel is eager to observe how the pieces come together.
"I'm ready to start the season and see how we react in certain matches. I think this team has a lot of balance and potential, and that's exciting. We have to figure out our roles and play as a team," said Daniel, who's entering his 11th season at Wallace State. "I don't think I've challenged a team as much as I have this one in the preseason. I think it will pay off."
No matter the roster turnover each season, winning has been a constant for Wallace State volleyball under Daniel. The Lions, who open the season on Friday in Toledo, Ohio, are seeking their ninth consecutive Alabama Community College Conference (ACCC) championship in 2017 and 10th straight regular season title.
Wallace State volleyball has also reeled off 42 consecutive wins in conference matches, an undefeated span stretching three seasons.
"It gets harder and harder every year to maintain the consistency, but we wouldn't have it any other way. I love the expectations we have established. It's important to me as a coach and to our players," said Daniel, who has a career record of 370-80 with the Lions.
Five sophomores return from last season's 38-4 team, which breezed through the regular season and also made an eighth straight appearance at the NJCAA Division I national championship.
Emily Wilson is back at libero for the Lions, and Abby Borden returns at setter. Both Wilson and Borden were All-ACCC 2nd-team selections last season. Wilson, a Walker High grad, racked up a conference-best 625 digs last season. Borden, an Arab grad, led the ACCC with 1,117 assists.
"Sophomore leadership is the most important thing to me in junior college volleyball. It's important to have players who know what it takes to lead. Having Emily and Abby in their respective roles is going to make a huge difference. Emily has to dig and Abby has to make a good set. If that happens consistently, this team will be successful," Daniel said.
Sophomores Kati Thomas and Kaylee Maddox also return to the fold for the Lions this season. The 5-foot-10 Thomas finished her freshman campaign with 158 kills, 50 digs and six blocks. Maddox, a Good Hope product, racked up 153 kills and 108 digs at outside hitter last season.
"I'm excited about the improvements both Kati and Kaylie have made. They are both versatile players and played big roles to our success last season," Daniel said
Gann, a 6-foot-4 middle hitter from Carbon Hill, rounds out the Wallace State sophomore class.
Wallace State has 12 freshmen on the roster this season.
Daniel has been impressed with the preseason work of newcomers Lexie Riggins (Chelsea HS), Maya Jones (Hoover) and Lexi Byrd (Dothan) at middle hitter.
Hannah Simmons (Curry) is also a freshman middle hitter.
At outside hitter, are freshmen Alex Wiggins (Enterprise), Kelsey Borden (Brewer) and Courtlyn Barber (Westbrook Christian).
Andrea Jacques (Winston County) and Katie Edwards (Hewitt-Trussville) should provide depth at libero and Macy Green (Winston County), Morgan Kyles (Enterprise) and Kennedy Watford (Smiths Station) at setter.
Because the roster features an influx of newcomers, Daniel expects strong competition at each position. He was pleased with the team's hard work in recent exhibition matches against the likes of Montevallo, UNA and West Florida.
"All of the freshmen have been impressive in the scrimmages. We've had some inconsistencies, mainly because of injuries, but the team is playing hard and has already been tested," Daniel said. "This team can one of the most versatile I've had. We can rely on different players at different spots and not rely so much on one person to finish off a point. I'm excited to see how the pieces fit."
Wallace State opens the season at the Owens Community College Tournament on Friday, playing five nationally-ranked teams in a span of three days.
With a road conference match against Snead State squeezed in, the Lions then travel to a tournament at Vincennes (Ind.) next weekend.
"Our early season schedule is brutal and very competitive. I'm trying to challenge our team as much as possible so we might peak at the right time," Daniel said. "As we always are, we'll be tested on the road within the conference. When you are on the road and everyone is gunning for you, that's when leadership is the most important."
Wallace State's first three conference matches are on the road. The Lions' home opener is Sept. 20 vs. Southern Union and Gadsden State. They have home conference matches on Sept. 20, 21, 28, 29 and Oct. 4.
Jessica Coombs returns to the team for her second stint as an assistant coach.
Members of Wallace State's volleyball team are, front row, from left: Emily Wilson, Caroline Gann, Kati Thomas, assistant coach Jessica Coombs, head coach Randy Daniel, Abby Borden, Kaylee Maddox and manager Savannah Beard; back row, from left, Andrea Jacques, Alex Wiggins, Maya Jones, Kennedy Watford, Hannah Simmons, Mariah Green, Lexi Byrd, Lexie Riggins, Morgan Kyles, Katie Edwards, Courtlyn Barber, Macy Green and Kelsey Borden.