PREP VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: Elizabethtown returns plenty of firepower

Elizabethtown’s Presley Payne makes a pass to setter Grace Filburn during a match last season.

There are a lot of people who are looking at Elizabethtown as the team to beat.

The Lady Panthers are coming off a season in which they defeated Taylor County in five sets in the 5th Region Tournament semifinals before losing to rival Central Hardin in the final.

Both those teams lost quality players.

While Elizabethtown lost three solid seniors to graduation, all of its firepower is back.

“Well, I’m not sure if we have a target or not,” Coach Bart Catlett said. “I think until someone proves otherwise, Central Hardin is the reigning region champ, and has been for the last three years. Every year we just focus on two things, winning our first district tournament game, because that punches your ticket to region, and secondly, winning region. It seems like every year, local teams look forward to playing us and they bring their ‘A’ game. This is a very competitive district and region.”

All that firepower will make some interesting practices.

“We will have some very competitive practices,” Catlett said. “We have a lot of girls who can play multiple positions. We have a lot of skill work that we need to focus on, so we will spend most of our time on that. Scrimmaging will probably only be 10-to-15 percent of our practice.

“My expectations for this team is one thing, very simple — compete. We will never be able to just ‘go through the motions’ on anything, practice, game, drills, etc.”

Senior Sydney Clark, junior Eliza-beth Godfrey and sophomore M.E. Hargan will be six-rotation players.

Last season Clark had 340 kills, 360 assists and a team-high 90 blocks. Godfrey totaled 392 digs, 358 kills, 71 aces and a serving percentage of 92 percent. Hargan finished with 260 digs, 250 kills and was an 85 percent server.

“Sydney has blown me away with her improvement, and commitment in the offseason,” Catlett said. “She is a very dynamic hitter, has added a jump serve to her skillset, and may be the best setter I’ve ever coached at E’town. Sydney has shown that she can compete at a very high level.

“Practice is better when Elizabeth is there, period. She is very high energy, and works harder than anyone I know. Elizabeth spent the whole offseason training as well as competing on the swimming team. She may be the most well-rounded player I’ve ever coached.

“M.E. Hargan has a ‘live’ arm. She has great hitting mechanics and is getting to the ball very high in her contact. She has grown in height, and maturity this offseason. She has a very well-rounded game. I often tell ME that she would be a great sand Player, because she can do everything. She will do a great job for us as an outside hitter, but what may not get noticed, is her defensive skills. She is a great passer and is very good at making reads on other players.”

The Lady Panthers finished 23-15 a year ago and will have junior Presley Payne back as the libero. She had 411 digs last season.

“There is not one thing that Presley can do to surprise me,” Catlett said. “Every day in practice she will do something that you just can’t explain. She is arguably the most athletic player I’ve ever been around. She has worked hard on her passing platform this summer and is doing a great job. She is getting better and better with each passing day. She is very competitive and mentally tough.”

Grace Filburn will be the second setter opposite Clark. Jada Porter and Mary Kate Wheatley will be three-rotation players. Filburn had a team-high 460 assists, and was a 90 percent server with 60 aces. Porter finished with 90 kills and 27 blocks and Wheatley 30 blocks.

“Grace Filburn worked very hard in the offseason playing club and is one of our more consistent servers,” Catlett said. “She is one of our best players in serve receive. She has a great platform when passing.

“Jada is a hard worker and a great leader. She will bring a lot of energy to the floor for us. Mary Kate is a very versatile player who can do a little bit of everything. She had a great attitude, is a great teammate and just a great young lady.”

The Lady Panthers also will have senior Ellie Taylor in the middle for the whole season. She missed most of last year after transferring from Bethlehem.

“Ellie is a great kid,” Catlett said. “She has a great personality, and is very funny. Ellie really likes to be pushed. The harder you make a drill, the more she competes. She is very athletic, but I think her best quality is her game IQ, she is just a very cerebral player. I am very excited, and lucky to get to coach her for the full year.

“Last year, she couldn’t even practice with us until the district tournament, so this year, her progression level has increased dramatically in just a few weeks.”

Elizabethtown also has seniors Bailey Thomas, Zoie Edlin and Indya Bradley, sophomore Natalie Shaw and freshman Sara Clark.

“The best thing is we have three-to-four girls who can come in and play tough in the DS/backrow positions,” Catlett said.

The Lady Panthers finish the regular season with matches at Christian Academy-Louisville and Louisville Mercy and will host Louisville Presentation.

“They are for the girls,” Catlett said. “They get amped up, and love playing in that environment. Those are the matches that we look forward to every year, because you get to gauge yourself against the top teams in the state. We also get to play North Oldham this year, which they are a perennial top 10 team as well.

“I think that competition level is great for us, going into the postseason. I think it will help us get focused, and sharpen up some of the details we need to have in place going into postseason.”

Mike Mathison can be reached at 270-505-1758 or mmathison@thenewsenterprise.com.

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