Pelham volleyball prepares to take next step towards state glory

Published 1:16 pm Monday, August 14, 2023

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By ANDREW SIMONSON | Sports Editor

PELHAM – After an unforgettable run to the 6A semifinals in 2022, Pelham is excited to begin the climb back up to the top.

The Panthers finished 34-17 last season, including an undefeated run through area play. However, the real excitement came in the playoffs, when coach Perry Robinson’s squad won the area tournament, advanced out of super regionals in Huntsville and took down Hartselle in straight sets in the Elite Eight to advance to the Final Four.

Even though the Panthers accomplished so much last season, Robinson said they still have a lot of areas to work on ahead of the start of the season on Thursday, Aug. 24.

“Considering where we finished last year, I think expectations are high, but the reality is we’re still working through some things and we’ve obviously used our summer activities to give us a jump start on that,” Pelham coach Perry Robinson said. “But, at some point, you’ve got to play somebody else or play somebody that matters, and we’ll start figuring out the real Pelham volleyball at that point. I think we’re going to be competitive, but we’ve got to find out.”

He said that they have a very talented group of players in the right spots, but right now, they are discovering which players work well together and putting everyone in a position on the court where they can succeed.

The libero spot has been another area that Pelham has been figuring out this summer, but overall, Robinson still feels good about where his team is at this point in the summer.

“Everybody’s in the right position,” Robinson said. “It’s just, what are the right pieces in the right place?”

If one thing is for sure, it is that Pelham will stylistically look the same as they did last year. Like many teams, their goal is to play fast, and they will make that happen with their service game and defense.

Robinson aims for Pelham to be more consistent this year, which includes having an improved swing percentage, less errors and encouraging players to go for chances when they present themselves.

He believes that the Panthers will be slightly improved on defense this year, and one big reason why he is optimistic is because of their solid blocking up front. While he knows that blocks aren’t the most important aspect of defense, he knows how much they matter on the scoreboard and for momentum.

“Blocking is not that big a deal, but if you get one or two more points out of your block, then that adds up quick,” Robinson said.

Offensively, the Panthers have been working on their service game, but Robinson believes they work well as a team to create and capitalize on chances.

“We’d like to be a better serving team to keep other teams off balance,” Robinson said. “So far, in practice, we’re pretty good at extended rallies and, if we can’t get the swing, we just keep it going until we can find a way to score.

“I think we’ll be good at the things you want to be good at–getting the ball to the right hitters at the right time and giving them a chance to score points.”

After graduating three seniors last season, Pelham has three seniors once again, and middle hitters Kassadi Jones and Caley Peterson as well as defensive specialist Ashvi Davawala will all contribute to the team in big ways.

Look for Jones especially to be a strong leader on and off the court. Robinson has noticed her influence throughout the offseason since Jones is the only senior who isn’t a multi-sport athlete, which means she has spent more time bonding with the team and has been the one who the younger players look up to.

Pelham also has a solid core of juniors who made great contributions to the team last year and will step up in 2023, starting with outside hitter Londyn Wynn. She is in her second year on the left side after switching from the opposite end, and Robinson believes she is a great all-around player who excels at serving, blocking and all aspects of both frontcourt and backcourt play.

Camryn McMinn is also in her second year as an outside, and her natural serving abilities have shined brighter as she has grown more comfortable in her role with the Panthers.

Setter Kylee Hester has been given high expectations by the Pelham coaching staff, but Robinson said that even though she has had a lot of things thrown at her, she has handled all of them well.

The coaches are looking for Peterson and sophomore Jojo Miller to step up, and they should be interesting players to watch this season as they hope to become breakout players on the court.

Pelham will take on a difficult schedule this season headlined by area games against Helena, John Carroll and Briarwood. Last year, each of the teams were highly ranked coming into the area tournament, and they look to be solid once again this year.

Not only will they be difficult games because of on-court challenge each team poses, but Robinson knows that every area game will be a high-energy one because of the history and intensity between the schools. He knows that if Pelham can get through that gauntlet and win the area title, they will be set up for success in the postseason.

“It’s two sides–if you have a tough area and you can get out, I think you’re very prepared for whatever comes your way in super regionals,” Robinson said. “I think it does a great job because you don’t have those nights where we can just play okay and we’re going to be good. That’s not the case for this area. You have to come out and be ready.”

Even though the road ahead poses many challenges, Pelham knows that they have the talent to overcome it and continue their rise to the Class 6A summit.