Spain Park returns strong cast from state runner-up team

By SETH HAGAN | Special to the Reporter

The Spain Park Jaguars took the next step in 2020, advancing all the way to the Class 7A volleyball state championship game with another strong senior class and plenty of depth behind them.

Heading into 2021, reigning Shelby County Coach of the Year Kellye Bowen doesn’t plan on rebuilding in any sense of the word. After building this program up over the years, Bowen expects her team to reload and be a factor in the postseason once again.

Still, she knows the Jags can’t rely on last year’s success.

“We lost three great seniors in Katelyn Walsh, Abby Byrd, and Bella Pretnar,” Bowen said. “We do have people back from that (All-County) selection and they make great contributions to our program on and off the floor. I don’t think success is a continuum. I think you have to work hard every day and try to be better than you were the day before. Last year’s success doesn’t roll over into this year and this group has to find their own identity.”

Putting in the hard work is part of Bowen’s philosophy of getting 1-percent better each day, and Spain Park’s growth in recent years is evidence of that.

It’s part of her overall plan to develop the best students possible as they get ready for the real world.

“The requirements of taking the next step is commitment to each other and our standards on a daily basis. In today’s sports world, it’s a selfish mentality,” Bowen said. “At Spain Park High School, we try to make the student better as a whole, not just volleyball players. High school sports teaches kids to believe in something bigger than themselves.”

Spain Park returns five of its six All-County selections for 2021, but none loom larger than rising senior and Shelby County Player of the Year Audrey Rothman.

Many would expect Rothman, who stands at 6-foot-4, to spend most of her time at the net. But she showed incredible all-around skill last year by not only leading the county with 512 kills and 46 blocks, but also adding 244 assists, 172 digs and 64 aces.

Despite her dominance on the court, Bowen marvels at her personal growth and leadership in their time together.

“Audrey has been a blessing to coach. She has been so fun to watch grow through these five years. She has grown on and off the floor in many ways,” Bowen said. “What makes her so good is that she is humble and continues to make people around her better. When the best players in your gym are your best people it makes for a great culture.”

Rothman will have a strong supporting cast around her as they reload for the fall. Not only do the Jaguars have playing experience from last year, they have starting experience back from big situations.

“Emily Breazeale, Paige Ingersoll, Bella Halyard, Lilly Johnson, Brooklyn Allison, Olivia Myers were all starters last year and we expect them to have a big impact on this year’s team,” Bowen said. “Brooke Gober, Mckinney Shea (injured last season) Ashley Fowler, Haley Thompson, Nora Dawson, and Macie Thompson will also need to have a big impact on the floor. Everyone has been working hard this summer and they are pushing each other to be better every day.”

Bowen and the Jags took over Area 6 last year. Now, the Class 7A title is squarely in their sights.