Jacksonville lost only one starter last year and this year’s squad returns seven experienced seniors. Leading the way will be All-State player Katie Neisler who has been starting for the Lady Eagles since the ninth grade. Neisler has verbally committed to play at Samford University.
Returning with Neisler are middle hitters senior Halee Stallings and junior Tamaria Mays.
Seniors Breanna Hosch and juniors Ashton Gaddy and Mallory Patterson will be playing right side.
Senior Ariel Diaz will continue with her libero duties.
Junior Blessing Dunn, a transfer from Sacred Heart, will also be playing at outside hitter, as will seniors Amber Quinn and Kristen Aguilar. Lone sophomore Darrien Martin will also be playing at the outside hitter position.
Head Coach David Clark will also be playing two setters, something he hasn’t done in ten years. Senior Courtney Bowden and junior Ashley Clingan will be setting this year for the Lady Eagles.
Clark feels that even though he hasn’t used two setters for quite a while that it will really add to the offense this year as all the setters will need to do is worry about their setting and not so much blocking.
“We have the opportunity, if our setting continues to be solid to be really good offensively,” said Clark.
“We have the two best outside combinations we’ve had since I’ve been here,” continued Clark. “Generally we are middle heavy. Our middles are very experienced, they’re crafty and they know what they are doing.”
To say that the Lady Eagles have the chance to be very good offensively has to send chills up the backs of their opponents. The Lady Eagles, one of the most respected volleyball teams in the state, are consistently ranked in the top of the state.
Clark, in his twentieth year of coaching, has taken his team to the state Elite-Eight all but four of those twenty, years, winning back-to-back state championships in 2007 and 2008.
This past summer the Lady Eagles participated in two camps with Middle Tennessee. Clark was without his top outside hitters, Neisler and Dunn and had a chance to get a look at some of his less experienced players.
It comes as no surprise that Clark will be looking to Neisler to be one of the leaders on the team. While Neisler isn’t real vocal on the floor, her experience is what the players will look to.
Diaz will also be looked for to provide leadership, according to Clark, although he was quick to state, “I’m looking for all my seniors to be leaders, not only on the floor but in getting the team ready to play.”
The Lady Eagles will be playing in some tough tournaments this year, beginning with the Mayor’s Cup in Montgomery this Friday and Saturday, the Brooks Tournament on September 14, the Over the Mountain Tournament in Hoover on September 28, the Blaylock Tournament Oct. 18-19 as well as the county tournament on October 5.
Even though the Lady Eagles will be the smallest classification in the Over the Mountain Tournament and the Blaylock tournament, Clark feels that it will get his team ready for post-season play.
Jacksonville will play in the same area this year, with Hokes Bluff, Alexandria and Cherokee County.
Clark knows that his team will be marked all through the season. Because of their success not only last year but in the last 20 years, Clark remarked, “Because they are Jacksonville, they (the team) need to understand that they will be getting peoples best game and that it is a compliment to the team. Beating someone like us can really boost your season and make your program turn around.”
Clark remembers that years ago when his teams stated to beat Coach Sandy Hunter’s Pleasant Valley team’s that he knew his program had started to turn a corner.
“Expectations are a lot higher than usual this year, because so many people are back, there are high expectations for us to win it all this year.”
First of all though, the girls need to start playing some actual games. Clark pointed out that the girls are getting a bit stale just practicing all the time and is anxious for the season to start this week.
As for just how long Clark will keep on coaching is up in the air. One story might bear some light as told by Clark, “Last week I was riding in the car with (wife) Connie and we were discussing how long I would keep coaching. I mentioned maybe another year or two.
“Caitlyn (third grade daughter) was in the back and I didn’t think she was listening and when we finished talking she said, “Daddy does that mean you’re not going to coach me?’ So I guess I’ve got another ten years or so…we’ll see,” said Clark.
Clark mentioned that he still enjoys coaching and when he does leave he wants to leave the program in good hands and in a good place.
Right now it couldn’t be in better hands or a better place than where Clark has it. Fans hope it continues to stay that way for years to come.