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Fresh start for ladies after dismal 2011

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After finishing near the bottom of the region last season (5-18), the Lady Panther volleyball team has re-grouped and is ready to wipe the slate clean.

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“I’m excited and ready to start anew,” head coach Kristen Hooper said. “I think we’re going to be a really strong team this year. I feel like we get a lot of energy from our younger ones and experience from our older ones. It makes for a very good combination to drive us towards our goals and succeed.”

The team of 10 is very divided as far as varsity experience, Hooper said, and carries four seniors, three juniors and three sophomores.

The Lady Panthers return senior setter Caitlyn Burke, who was named to the All-Conference team last year, which Hooper said was a “big deal” for a setter. Protecting the net will be seniors Ariel Hotfil and Ashley Gentry. Hooper said Hotfil is a great blocker and has really improved as a hitter. Gentry also is a good blocker with a very strong vertical, she said.

Hooper said the team would have very strong back line passers in senior Megan Harris and junior Brittany Yocum. Junior Emily Baker is another strong passer, who also sets for the JV team. Hooper said this shows Baker is a well-rounded player who can be stuck anywhere and do well.

Rounding out the junior class is Michaela Culver, who has experience on both the JV and varsity squads. Also a softball player, Culver is very aggressive. “She has such quick arm speed,” Hooper said. “When she gets a hold of the ball, it hurts somebody!”

The head coach said she was really looking forward to seeing sophomore Kelly Layton play this summer. Layton, who continued to grow freshman year and over the summer, is “fierce at the net,” Hooper said. “She’s aggressive, she hits hard. I have really high hopes for Kelly.”

Out of everyone on the varsity squad, sophomore Karly Prosser is a testament to how hard work can pay off in the offseason, Hooper said. Prosser “worked her tail off” and will see a solid amount of playing time. The head coach also commented on the athleticism and scrappiness of sophomore Stevie Ogburn.

While the team has not officially set their goals for the season, Hooper expects two of them to be winning the Class A and winning the district.

Carroll’s district has been realigned this season, and the Lady Panthers will now be joined by Gallatin, Henry, Owen and Eminence. Hooper said, despite the competition, she thinks both goals are very attainable. “We have to be on top of our game to do it, but there is no reason we can’t.”

The Lady Panthers open the season at home against Gallatin County Aug. 9. The Class A Regional will be held Aug. 25 at Eminence High School, with the tournament slated for Sept. 8 at an undetermined site.

The team will host its Carroll County River Classic Tournament Sept. 22, and Hooper said nine other teams are signed up to play. Carroll also will host the district tournament Oct. 8-10.