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Young Lady Pioneers showing promise

Erin Blalock walked into Charlie Dalton Gym with a clear plan when she took over the volleyball program in 2020. She wanted to win and believed one of the best ways to build sustained success was getting a pipeline of players ready for action, so she started a freshman program for development.

The seeds planted years ago are blooming now and Blalock hasn’t stopped laying the groundwork for more success in the future. The freshman team, featuring six players, have a 5-3 record this year, including adding to its victory total at home Monday.

The young Lady Pioneers beat Franklin County in straight sets and topped Lincoln County in three sets as most of the District 6AAA schools sent squads to Charlie Dalton Gym. It was a sight to see for Blalock, who only envisions bigger and better things for her program as more and more gravitate to volleyball.

“Tonight is a good example of the growth we’ve seen, both with our team and in the area. I love that the sport is growing in our community and growing in interest,” said Blalock after Monday’s matches. “We’ve got good things coming out of the middle school program and we’ve been fortunate the last three years to have good freshmen come in.

“It’s all about growth from the beginning to the end. We’re working to get them prepared to play JV and, ultimately, varsity.”

Shelbyville and Coffee County were also represented at Charlie Dalton Gym as four matches were played throughout the night.

Coach Blalock got to sit back and watch as her freshman squad impressed while making full rotations Monday. The Lady Pioneers, who were guided by assistant coach Bethany Fye most of the night, only have six freshmen, so they never come off the court. 

The Lady Pioneer freshman team includes Ansley Centracchio, Hope Gilley, Kassidy Nuckols, Lola Wells, Samantha Saldana and Abigail Brown and all had their moments in big wins Monday.

The Lady Pioneers beat Franklin County 25-13 and 25--19, then followed by topping Lincoln County 23-25, 25-21 and 16-14.

Blalock has seen her youngsters find their footing throughout a busy season, one aided by the area schools promoting more competition for the freshman teams.

“Our district is really focused on growing the young players, so we’ve had a few of these dual-match nights and we also play most of our district opponents on our regularly scheduled nights (before varsity games). We’ve had a chance to play almost 10 matches with just our freshmen and they’re also getting plenty of work on JV this year,” said Blalock.

While the current freshmen will still need some seasoning before they make it to the varsity level, coach Blalock knows – given time – her program’s plan for talent building will work. It is already showing at the varsity level this year, where WCHS is challenging for a top-two distict seed while using a number of kids who have moved through her freshman program.

“Our first freshman group is now our current juniors and they’re playing a big role on our varsity team. There’s also several sophomores stepping up with our JV team. They’re all stepping up to be leaders in our program and that’s a really great thing,” said Blalock.

Warren County will turn to celebrating its seniors Thursday night at home when Cascade comes to town. Seniors Lydia Netherton, Mia Hobbs, Ally Beneke, Marissa O’Hara and Jessie Young will all be honored before the match, which is set to begin at 5 p.m.