Petal eyes playoffs in 2017

By CAMAL PETRO,

It’s becoming a common theme for area volleyball teams, and Petal isn’t any different. The Lady Panthers have a couple of pieces back this season, but for the most part they’ll have to replace a ton of contributors from the 2016 team.

The division, however, is in the same situations Petal is in, too, and that gives coach Anna Powell some solace. Of the three teams in the region, two make it to the playoffs, and Petal was the odd-team out last season. But, there’s a big different – George County has replaced Brandon.

“We’re young, but we have a lot of commitment and a lot of drive, so we’re hoping to finish high in our region,” Powell said. “Brandon moved out, which is a great thing for us. I expect George County to be pretty tough, because they’re athletic type of kids. They’re a newer program, but I’m definitely not going to look past them. Oak Grove lost a lot last year, but they’re always strong.”

Petal lost its leader in just about every statistical category, and the most production lost is from the attack – the top three leaders in kills. The top two servers, blocker and two best defensive players all graduated in May.

In total, the Lady Panthers brought back two players who played consistently and one more who saw floor time for the varsity team. Senior Ashley Majors and junior Myla Cox were the consistent players and sophomore Anna McCardle is the returner who is also not a stranger to varsity matches.

“We lost a lot of leadership and a lot of seniors who played a lot of varsity,” Powell said. “It was pretty much my entire starting crew. My girls have stepped up. I have some seniors who have stepped up and a lot of sophomores who are coming in and they’re going to be significant contributors.”

Powell those three players will start for her, as McCardle will be on the outside and Cox and Majors will play in the middle. Joining McCardle on the outside is another sophomore, Molly Mangum.

“All she does is play volleyball,” Powell said. “That’s all she wants to do and that’s all she does. She leaves here and goes home to play volleyball.”

Senior Jasmine Brown will be the team’s libero, and sophomore Kearstin Craft and Breanna Byrd will play at the two setter positions since the Lady Panthers will run a 6-2 offense.

Powell switched from a 5-1 rotation, which means only one setter, to a 6-2 because she wants to have three available hitters on the front row.

“Your setter is always on the back row, so you always have three available hitters,” Powell said of the 6-2 rotations. “When we had the 5-1 last year, we’d only have two hitters when our setter moved to the front row. It took us out of being able to have three strong attacks, plus both of my setters are kind of short. If they would play front row, it kind of takes away from the block. We’re kind of excited about being able to have three hitters.”

Powell added junior Madison Newsom and seniors Lauryn Wheat and Jada Arrington as three more players who will see playing time. Newsom played a little varsity last season, but mainly junior varsity, and this is only Arrington’s second full season playing the volleyball.