Ladycats look to get back to top of the 28th District

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By Tommie Kendall

Since the program began in 1999, the Henry County volleyball team has more players and more seniors on this year’s roster than any previous season. And Jon Kasten, who has coached all but the first two years, hopes that means an even better season than the impressive 2008 campaign.

With 21 players listed on the roster, including six seniors, the Ladycats are not short on numbers. And with the players they have coming back, they are not short on talent. The only shortage they might have — with Heidi Smith graduating last school year and a few players deciding not to play this fall — is depth. On paper, though, this could be the best season on record.

“At this point, our seniors have really stepped up,” Kasten said. “We lost Heidi, which took away a lot of leadership, but these seniors have worked really well together and have divided that role of leadership, and doing a very good job with it. One thing we’ve been able to do this year is getting much more advanced, running more plays. I never really thought we had the players to do it until this year.”

With a full roster, the Ladycats will have the luxury of playing a freshmen, junior varsity and varsity schedule, something they have not done in the past. On days the freshmen play, there will be a triple header with three best-of-three series. Kasten said there are five on the schedule, starting with the season opener against Western Hills last Monday.

Another new addition is the practice gym that was finished during the early summer. The volleyball team has been able to play in both gyms during pre-season training, Kasten said all the players started out together and then split into two separate groups to work on more technical drills. All volleyball games will be played in the new gym this year, allowing more lighting and a clearer path without the obstruction of the hanging scoreboard.

The last two years have been record-breaking seasons for the Ladycats on the volleyball court. In 2007, the Cats won a school record 19 matches with a 19-7 record, then defeated Eminence and Anderson County in the 28th District tournament to win their first district title. They lost to Bullitt East in the first round of the 8th Region tournament.

Then, in 2008, the Ladycats won a school record 24 matches with a 24-7 record, won the 8th Region All “A Classic tournament and finished in the top eight at the All “A” Classic state tournament in the first year they were eligible to compete against the smallest 125 schools in Kentucky — Henry County is not eligible to compete in the All “A” this year after they fell outside the smallest-125-schools cutoff. In the opening round of the district tourney, though, they lost to Shelby County to end the year without reaching the district finals or the regional tourney.

En route to that season finale, the Ladycats enjoyed more victories than any team before. They went on eight- and nine-game winning streaks, won the North Central Kentucky Conference and won the mid-season Carroll County Invitational.

In 2009, Henry wants to put it all together by breaking the school record for wins, winning the NCKC title, winning the district championship again, and winning the school’s first match in the regional tourney.

“Our focus this year are the matches against our district opponents. We need to get the top seed in postseason,” Kasten said. “The big focus this year is winning districts. These girls on this year’s team were part of that and they know how big of a deal it was. They want that again.”

The Ladycats will not be short of individual players this year. Kelley Everidge returns as the team’s starting setter for the fifth straight year; Haley Anderson and Jessica Booher are the strong-side hitters; Kelsey Mings is the weak-side hitter; Rebekah Buckley and Brittany Crawford play the middle; and Karie Powell plays libero — a defensive specialist who must wear a contrasting color to her teammates. Also, Taylor Sadler, Kelsie Thomas, Amber Aneszco and Maggie Ward will see key varsity minutes. The seniors are Buckley, Crawford, Everidge, Mings, Powell and Ward.

“Basically, the entire team has been working very hard,” Kasten said. “The girls are jumping higher than they ever have and are more conditioned. A lot of things have come with maturity.”

One obstacle the team has faced in the early season is when Buckley had a partial tear in her rotator cuff during a volleyball camp. She is expected to return this week. Thomas and Aneszco — two sophomores — stepped up in her absence, which could benefit the team down the road with four middle players including Crawford.

“I’m looking for some big things out of my seniors and this year’s team,” Kasten said. “If we can stay healthy and aggressive, we have the opportunity to have another great year.”