SIKESTON -- Last year Sikeston's volleyball team had an overachieving season. The Lady Bulldogs were expected to struggle, but finished with a record of 16-16-2, placing first and second in two major tournaments.
A good nucleus from that team returns this year, along with some promising young talent.
"I'm expecting to have a decent season this year," said Sikeston coach Steve Beydler. "We've got some good experience coming back, and we've got some good younger players. If they can step up their game, we will have a good season."
Sikeston lost four seniors to graduation -- Summer Ray, Jaime Medlin, Beth French and Stefanie Mason.
"Each year you always wonder if you can fill the holes," said Beydler. "I think with the young group we have, we can. The thing is their lack of experience. I have some that are juniors who last year played a lot of jayvee because of the girls we had on varsity."
Expectations are high for senior middle hitter Joy Daniel. She was all-conference last season, and could be one of the area's more dominant players.
"She is going to be very difficult to stop," said Beydler.
"She will be hard for anybody to put out for an entire match."
Senior setter Emily Slaten will be another main cog. She was an honorable mention all-conference selection last season, and has been playing varsity since she was a sophomore.
"She is the one with the most experience," said Beydler. "She's the one I look to run the offense, help keep the girls together, and make sure everybody is doing what they need to be doing on the court."
Senior Tara Shoemaker will provide the team with solid backcourt defense and possesses good blocking ability. Junior Rachael Vining is one of the more athletic members of the team, and played varsity last year as a sophomore.
"She has been hitting the ball real well," said Beydler. "She has also done a real good job in defensive drills. So far, she has proven that she deserves a really good spot on the team."
Setter Fleming Silverthorn opted to play softball instead of volleyball this season, opening a spot for sophomore Maggie Pfefferkorn.
"She is moving up a little earlier than I had originally intended," said Beydler. "But she's talented enough and athletic enough to take it all in stride. Moving her up this year will help us in the future."
Juniors Lindsey Davis and Erin Box didn't see much varsity time last season, but will get extended playing time this year.
"Both of them can set if I need it," said Beydler. "More than anything right now, they are looking to be defensive players. They can both get to the ball, get it up and keep it in play."
Junior Paige Kaiser was a dominant jayvee player last year, and has earned a spot of this year's varsity squad. "Last year when she played middle for me in jayvee, she dominated the entire row when she was up front," said Beydler. "She's getting better at hitting the ball, no matter where it is, and putting it down on the court. She gets up and really causes the hitters on the other side to hit around her. They're not going to go through her."
Sophomore Berneatress Hunt is extremely athletic, probably the best vertical jumper on the team. She played jayvee a lot last year.
"She is proving herself to be a tremendous hitter and blocker," said Beydler. "She does a very good job of keeping the ball in play defensively. For a tall, athletic girl, she is able to play all the way around."
Senior Margo Allen is back out for the team after a couple of years off. Erin Dement, Robyn Morris, Lateisa Peet, Amber Anthony, Audra Wooley, Samantha Landers, Stephanie Raymond and Khassie Patterson are also members of the team.
Sikeston still competes in the SEMO Conference and is in 4A District 1. The Lady Bulldogs open the season Tuesday at Bernie.
"We've never started 1-0, we've always started 0-1," said Beydler. "We're hoping to change that this year."
PORTAGEVILLE -- The Lady Bulldogs of Portatgeville have high expectations this season, returning five starters. All are seniors, and several have been playing varsity since they were sophomores.
"I expect us to be pretty competitive in our conference and district," said coach Kerwin Urhahn. "We have our work cut out for us, but I think we can give them a run for their money. We're not just going to roll over for them."
While Portageville returns a lot of experience, there is a catch.
"The only problem is they're all about 5-foot tall," said Urhahn. "We're not real big, but they use their heads and are pretty scrappy."
Portageville's top hitters will be Lauren Williams and Stacia Qualls. The two setters are Mindy Stafford and Beth St. Mary. Both were all-conference last season.
The team will also rely on senior Alyson Crafton, junior Jo Beth Delisle and Heather Turley.
"I will probably bring some jayvee kids up towards the end of the year, but right now, I've just got seven kids on my varsity," said Urhahn. "As long as everybody stays healthy, I think we'll be OK."
Portageville finished with a record of 12-15 last year. The team competes in the Bootheel Conference and is in 2A District 1.
ORAN -- The Lady Eagles lost star player Maria Eftink to graduation, but still have high expectations about the upcoming season.
"I'm hoping it will be a good season," said head coach Tonya Skinner. "We only graduated two seniors that played all the time. It may be kind of a rebuilding year, but I don't expect us to play poorly."
Top players on the team are setters Candace Duncan and Jessica Prino. Teresa Hodges will be the middle hitter. Other key players are junior Amber Seyer and Lexie Todt. Sophomore Tori St. Cin and freshman Carmen Duncan will also see playing time.
"The girls have a lot of power and their serving is excellent," said Skinner. "They've been putting in a lot of hard work in practice. I do expect we will at least have another winning record this year."
Oran has joined the SEMO Conference this year and competes in 1A District 2. The Lady Eagles finished with a record of 18-10 last year.
NEW MADRID -- New Madrid County Central has a senior-dominated team this year and is hoping its experience on the court will translate into wins.
"I have high expectations," said NMCC coach Sonya Pixley. "We have a lot of talent and a lot of seniors on the team. They're all aggressive. They know this is their last year and they don't get another chance. They want to win this year."
Seniors Ashley Brittain, Megan Lange and Kendra Gregg are the top three players on the team. Elizabeth Myracle, Lindsey Campbell and Mariah Bock will also contribute, as will junior Jenni Glenn.
The Lady Eagles compete in the SEMO Conference and are in 3A District 1. Last season they finished with a record of 13-16-3.
"We would like to go for districts," said Pixley. "We've got the conference tournament coming up in two weeks, and we would like to walk away with that championship as well."
CHARLESTON -- Charleston will be relying on several inexperienced players this season.
"We're kind of in a rebuilding state," said first-year coach Amanda Broshuis. "We only have one senior. A couple of our juniors played most of the time last year, but for the most part, it's a rebuilding year."
The team's top player is senior middle hitter Jessica Harvell.
"She's been a great leader," said Broshuis. "She's still kind of developing because she didn't play any junior high ball."
Angie Starr and Angie Clark are the team's outside hitter. The two setters are juniors Beth Medlock and Sleater Quinn. Alaina White is the defensive specialist.
Patreesha Farmer, Amy McCameron, Katrina Hunter, Sheryl Mitchell and Katrina Hunter will also see playing time.
"Last year we had quite a bit of talent, but we didn't have a lot of team chemistry," said Broshuis. "This year we don't have as much talent or experience, but the girls have already worked tons harder than last year. The girls really work well together."
Charleston competes in the Scott-Mississippi Conference and is in 2A District 2.
CHAFFEE -- Chaffee's volleyball team hasn't won a match in two years. The squad returns five starters this season.
"I'm hoping we can be competitive in all of our matches this year," said first-year coach David Mirly. "We're not looking so much at the win/loss column. We just want to stay close and compete as hard as we can."
Chaffee's top player will be senior middle hitter Jennifer Vandeven. Other key players are Ashley Graham, Natalie Townsend, Ashton Lee, Lindsey Everett, Samantha Hendrix and Molley Fowler.
Christine Whitley could also see playing time.
Chaffee competes in the Scott-Mississippi Conference and is in 1A District 2.
ESSEX -- Richland graduated six starters and two subs off last year's 22-9-2 team.
"We're pretty much a new team," said first-year coach Laura Dejournett. "Hopefully we can have a good season."
Junior hitter Amber Suiter and senior middle hitter Jessica Sanders will lead the team. Senior setter Lea Stafford, Tylar Ritter, Amber Cruse, Michelle Lane and Kelly Clark will also see playing time.
B.J. Christian is also a member of the team, but is out with an injury.
Richland competes in the Stoddard County Conference and is in 1A District 2.