Pelham volleyball boasts deep roster for 2019

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Sports Editor

PELHAM – The Pelham Panthers have a tradition of winning on the volleyball court, and despite coming up short of repeating as Class 6A State Champions last year, they continued to build an already storied program with their fourth state tournament appearance in the last five years.

Now heading into the 2019 season, the Panthers are back with another strong group of players, including eight seniors, and hope to not only make it five state tournament appearances in six years this season, but also four state tournament berths in six years.

“We know what our girls are going to give us every day,” Pelham head coach Perry Robinson said. “We don’t want to ever have two bad days in a row at practice, and they are doing what it takes every day to battle for a spot and prepare for a competitive season.”

After winning the state championship in 2017 and making it in three of the last five years, the Panthers have turned into a power-house program solely based on their effort.

And this year, that will be no different with the return of eight seniors, including Erin Long, who posted 381 kills, 316 digs, 28 blocks and 34 aces during her junior season.

“Erin Long has played every front row position,” Robinson said. “She played right front her first two years and then moved to left front the last two years. There is a lot of expectation because she has meant so much to us and that won’t change this year.”

The Panthers do lose three key seniors, however, with the departure of Georgia Stonicher, Sarah Guthrie and Josie Hester. Stonicher led the team in assists with 1,203 last year, Guthrie led the team in aces with 106 and kills with 425, and Hester led the team in digs with 540.

“All three seniors played big roles last year,” Robinson said. “Losing all three has been tough. It’s high school so you know it’s coming, but they had big roles and we’re still searching for players to take up those roles. It won’t be filling the same role that’s important, but how the new players step in to replace them and make it their own role that will be important.”

In addition to Long being a leader on this year’s team, Ashley Anderson will play a key role as a senior as well.

“She is one of our setters and has been on the court for the last two years,” Robinson said. “She’s had two successful seasons with us, so she understands how to play a role because her role will change a lot to different spots this year.”

Anderson and Long are the only two players on this year’s team that were on the floor throughout Pelham’s run to the 2017 state championship, which Robinson said means a lot for this year’s team.

Macie Jones, Kennedy Chambers, Anna Boutwell, Alexis Jefferson, Jerica Snowden and Caitlin Gibson are the other six seniors that should be in the thick of the rotation this season. 

“All of our girls tend to feed off of each other,” Robinson said. “One will do good and then somebody else will do good and so on. It just carries over to each of them and creates support for one another.”

In addition to those seniors, several younger players are expected to contribute heavily this season, including a massive sophomore class that could see close to four players with solid playing time.

“We didn’t play the same roster all summer long,” Robinson said. “They know they are battling and they know what they need to do.”

One of those key players will be Elizabeth Hayhurst, who played a key role as a freshman and is expected to do so again this year.

Competing in a difficult Class 6A, Area 8 that will include a loaded Chelsea team, an always impressive Helena team and an on-the-rise Calera team, Robinson knows he has to get his lineup set.

“We need to find a lineup that works. That’s foremost,” he said. “We focus on what we want to be good at and we have to get better every day. Even if it’s just a 1-percent increase, we’ll take that. We have to look at what we need to do each day to get better and build on it.”

Robinson said he’s OK using non-area contests to sort out the right lineup, but it has to be set for area contests with top teams in the state ready to fight for a playoff spot.

“Last year we knew the area would be the toughest in 6A, and I think we’ll be in that discussion again this year as well,” Robinson said.

The Panthers will open the 2019 season by continuing to host the season-opening tri-match that has become tradition when Vestavia Hills and Hillcrest-Tuscaloosa come to Pelham on Thursday, Aug. 22.