After a record-setting season last fall, the Apalachee High School volleyball team is set to return to the court to defend its area championship.
Coach Joey Alfonso’s program was dealt some losses to graduation but a solid nucleus returns for 2014. The team has practiced throughout the summer and participated in some scrimmage matches in recent days.
“All in all, it’s been a pretty productive summer,” the coach said. “The kids have responded well. Our girls are playing OK considering who we lost. We are about where I would expect. Some of our younger girls are trying to step in and play.”
Lauren MacDowell, whom Alfonso said is the most successful volleyball player in AHS history in terms of wins, returns for her senior season. McDowell has been a part of more than 100 wins, two area championships and three trips to the state tournament.
Mattie Swift and Kiara Hooks are also seniors on this year’s team and are expected to contribute. Sophomore Taylor Bennett was a key player on last year’s state team. Morgan Vandergriff also returns and will be looked upon to help lead the Lady Wildcats.
“We do have some varsity experience but some of them will have to step up even more,” Alfonso said. “We are seeing the players grow and improve. I am cautiously optimistic. We’ll see how they are able to perform when the season starts.”
In terms of area competition this fall, Alfonso said Gainesville gave everyone a run in the tournament with mostly freshmen and sophomores.
“Lanier is new (in the area), but they should be a pretty good program,” the AHS coach said. “Winder-Barrow is going to give it a run and be much improved. I don’t want to count us out but at the same point we did lose some good defensive players and if we’ve struggled anywhere this summer, that’s where it’s been.”
Tryouts will be Friday, Aug. 1, with a preseason tournament at West Forsyth Aug. 5.
“Most of our girls have been working this summer,” Alfonso said. “We may have a few who walk in on tryout day. Each year there has been a surprise or two.”