Brianna Koretski and Brooke Morrow have played volleyball at Madison Central since they were in the sixth grade.
Still, they’ve never been part of a district championship team.
They’ve got only one last shot to achieve that goal.
“The underclassmen don’t want to let down the upperclassmen and the upperclassmen want to win,” Central coach Elizabeth Morrow said. “So, there’s a lot of pressure on both ends.”
Central hasn’t won a district title since 2005, but led by four seniors — Morrow, Koretski, Riley Lane and Hayden Cremeens — this year’s squad has a chance to end that drought.
The Lady Indians have been the district runner-up in three of the past four years and are coming off a 20-win season.
Still, it won’t be easy to reclaim the title, even with perennial power Bryan Station moving out of the district.
Koretski will miss at least the first six weeks of the season with a broken ankle and junior middle hitter Haleigh Morris will miss at three weeks with an Achilles problem.
“We are relying on some sophomores and freshmen who don’t have a lot of varsity experience to fill the void,” Morrow said. “We have been struggling a bit in the scrimmages, trying to find our rhythm. That’s probably the biggest thing we are working on right now — learning how to play together.”
Morrow is back at setter for Central. The four-year starter is getting offers from Division II schools and will provide some much-needed eadership.
“She reads the floor really well,” Morrow said. “I think that comes from playing club ball equally as long as she’s played high school ball. She’s definitely leads the team.”
Lane will take over libero and Cremeens could be ready to have a breakout year. The senior middle hitter had 14 kills in a match this summer in the Bluegrass State Games.
“She’s starting to step up,” Morrow said. “She’s another senior who wants to win.”
Kathryn White has rejoined the team and is set to step into the lineup at middle blocker with Morris on the sidelines. Ashley Templeton is just a freshman, but has plenty of varsity and club-level experience. She was a starting outside hitter for the junior varsity last season.
Anna Knox, a junior, has emerged as a back row starter and has shown tremendous improvement .
Several other spots are up for grabs at this point, but Morrow is confident the Lady Indians have the talent to make a run at a title.
“We set a goal,” Morrow said. “We want to win the district.”
Jeremy Grant’s first season as head coach at Madison Southern had its ups and downs.
The Lady Eagles won four of the first five matches, but they won just two of their final eight matches and lost in the opening round of the district tournament to Madison Central.
“At the beginning of the year, I think they were really motivated,” Grant said. “They kind of had a chip on their shoulder. They came out and played really well and were really competitive against everyone. But, I think during the year, it took a toll on everyone, mentally and physically.”
The Lady Eagles lost seven seniors from a team that won 12 matches, including five starters, and will be looking to some younger players to step up this season.
Jackie Shepherd is the only starter who returns from last season. The senior middle blocker led the team in kills and finished with the second-most kills in school history.
“We are going to be leaning on her really heavily,” Grant said. “She knows that and she’s come in really focused. She’s up to the task.”
The rest of Southern’s varsity lineup will be relatively inexperienced.
Lauren Taylor, a senior outside hitter/middle blocker, is back, along with Paige King, who has taken over at libero.
During the preseason, King was very impressive.
“In our first two scrimmages, she’s probably been the best player on the court for either team,” Grant said.
Jordan Adams, a junior middle blocker, got some varsity playing time last season. Senior Raven Shearer will take over at setter, while seniors Brianna Saylor, Kelsey Choate and freshman Ashley Clark will be called on to play bigger rolls.
The Lady Eagles may be young, but they are talented. Southern’s JV team finished last season with a .500 record and the freshman team had a 10-match winning streak.
“We know it might be a little rough at the start, but we know the more we play, the more confident we are going to be and the better we are going to be at the end of the season,” Grant said.
The Lady Pirates didn’t pick up many wins in Tina Williams’ first season as head coach at the school.
Still, that didn’t dampen her enthusiasm.
“I think we are moving in the right direction,” Williams said. “When we get new players in who have not played any organized sports, or any volleyball, it’s hard because you’ve got to teach all those skills.”
Berea lost just two upperclassman from a team that won three matches.
The Lady Pirates return three seniors — Hannah Williams, Cheyenna Reed and Hannah Haycraft — and have also added two newcomers and an experienced assistant coach, former Central basketball standout Jennifer Cornett.
In addition to the three seniors, juniors Nikea Banther and Elysha Campbell and sophomore Haley Baker also saw action last season and should be back in the lineup. Miche Desmond (freshman) and Tamara Desmond (eighth grader) have joined the team and will battle for playing time with sophomores Kim Rockwell, Ashley Potter and Ashley Chambers, freshman Hailee Varwig and seventh-grader Virginia Deaver.
Cornett played basketball at Central and at Union College. She recently served as the head volleyball coach at Nicholas County.
This season all district matches — and most other matches — will be extended to a best three-out-of-five set format.
That should make the battle for a district title even more interesting.
“It’s going to require a lot more conditioning, but I think it will be more fun,” Williams said.