Any chance to take the court isn’t just valuable to the Warren County High School volleyball team, but also to new coach Dena Upton.
Coach Upton got her first chance to lead the Lady Pioneers last weekend when the team traveled to Chattanooga to take part in the annual Choo Choo playday featuring several of the top teams from the state of Tennessee.
It wasn’t an easing-in process for coach Upton as her team played five hours in a row against squads which had great success last season. The Lady Pioneers played three teams that qualified for regionals last year - Cookeville, Sullivan East and Bradley Central - sweet 16 team Grace Academy and East Hamilton, which finished third in the state in AA competition.
Coach Upton started the day observing quietly from the sidelines, but by the end of the day the new coach was vocal in directing her team on the court. Coach Upton was grateful for the first full day of competition, which gave her a chance to find her team’s strengths and weaknesses.
“It was a great opportunity to get repetitions against some great teams,” said Upton. “We put everybody on the floor to evaluate strengths and areas in need of adjustments.”
Coach Upton got stellar play from her seniors throughout the day. Kelsey Lawrence led the team in kills as she moved swiftly around the net. Lauren Wilson and Kayla Brown had solid all-around days on the court while MacKenzie Magness stepped up with two blocks.
The defensive bright spot was the play of back-row specialists Raylee Pack, Hannah Wells and Haley Johnson. One of six freshmen on the Lady Pioneers, Pack really stood out to the coaching staff, which includes 18-year WCHS head coach Franklin Fisher as a consultant and longtime assistant coach David Upton in his familiar position.
Other freshmen who had big days were Elsa Eckenrod, Brooke Murphy and Skyler Youngblood as middle hitters. Junior Aubree Weitzel is also making a push for playing time at middle hitter.
Hannah Turner played her way into a new position while in Chattanooga. Turner filled the middle over the weekend, but her size and vertical leap will prove better suited for strong-side blocker as coach Upton began to shift the junior in practice Monday following the playday.
Sophomore Lorren Cannon stepped in as the team’s setter and led the team in assists. Cannon’s classmate Bailey Martin worked as a passer as well, though her serving was a big asset.
The Lady Pioneers will get two chances to play warm-up matches before the season starts in 10 days. Warren County will play host to a scrimmage Tuesday, Aug. 13 against Grundy County before traveling to play Cannon County next Thursday.
The Lady Pioneers open their season Monday, Aug. 19 with a home match against Tullahoma. The match is set to start at 6 p.m. and will hopefully be played on the new floor at Charlie Dalton Gym.