Photo by Keith McCoy.
Ali Lowe (14) prepares to take a swing at a set from Kathryn Cather in last year’s Class 7A title match.
As you walk in at the latters stages of a Hoover High volleyball practice, you quickly notice a familiar face.
Has Kathryn Cather been granted another year of eligibility by the AHSAA?
As she turns to reveal her Ole Miss T-shirt, it’s clear she’s just helping out her former teammates as the Bucs prepare for the 2015 season. She’ll soon be off to Oxford, so the rest of the state’s coaches can breathe a sigh of relief. The Bucs will not have one of the most powerful hitters the state has ever seen back on the court. The SEC will have to deal with her now.
Still, Chris Camper likes his current team. He’s got pieces back to make another run to the AHSAA State Final Four in October. Matching last season’s 38-9 record and a state runner-up finish to Mountain Brook, the best season in school history, won’t be easy. But expectations are high, as always.
“We’ve got a lot of returners, but the make-up of this team is 100 percent different,” Camper said. “Last year we knew no matter the situation we had power and height and serving to get us out of any situation. This year we’re going to have to be a better volleyball team than the team we’re playing. That didn’t necessarily have to be the case last year. There were teams last year that might have been a little bit better than us in areas of the game but we could go back and serve them off the court. We were big on the right side. Had huge blocks.
“This year’s different we’ve got to beat them with technique. If we want to have the same success we had last year, we’ve got to be a better fundamental team.”
With Cather, Addison Hoven and Ashlyn Rabon gone to college, it certainly will be a different approach to get to the CrossPlex. Four seniors and a junior are returning to make that happen. Ali Lowe made the state all-tournament team and was selected for the North-South All-Star game. Caroline Sanford, who is also drawing college offers, will be a big producer and Erin Test and Amelia Novy are other seniors who’ll be counted upon to provide leadership.
Junior libero Olivia Portera is, in Camper’s words, the “captain of the court, runs the show.” She was outstanding as a sophomore and should only get better. She’s already drawn interest from local Division I schools and others.
Lowe is the highest-profile player, the most-recruited play, and she and Sanford must have big years. “They’re going to be our big producers, get a lot of swings,” Camper said. “But Erin and Amelia’s defense may be the determining factor in whether we win or not. Backline is where you win in volleyball, not at the net. If that were the case, we’d have won last year.”
While last year’s team shot out of the gate and never looked back, Camper is looking forward to watching this team grow and mature over the season.
“It gives us more upside,” Camper said. “This team I can see us improving significantly through the season no matter how we start. So much of our game is going to be real good solid volleyball. We have depth – 13 girls, nine are sophomores and juniors. I think they all get along well.
“And they want to finish. They want to get back there.”
Hoover opened the season by hosting the Juanita Boddie Tournament Aug. 28-29.