SIKESTON -- The Sikeston Bulldog volleyball team went with a youth movement last year and it resulted in the team's first losing season in head coach Steve Beydler's seven years as head coach.
But at the same time, Beydler is hoping that those young players return this season as experienced veterans as the Lady Bulldogs open their season tonight at Bernie at 6 p.m.
"With four sophomores in last year's starting lineup, we took our lumps but gained valuable varsity experience which we hope to develop on this season," said Beydler.
The Lady Bulldogs return some of their top players from last year's 12-15 team, including all-conference and all-region middle hitter Martika Davis, a junior.
The athletic Davis registered 152 kills and 60 blocks last season.
Other top returners from last year is second team all-conference setter Rachel Beydler, and honorable mention all-conference outside hitter Quinn Kaiser.
Beydler, a junior, had 185 assists, 182 digs and served at a 92 percent clip. Kaiser, one of three seniors on the team, tallied 120 kills and served at a 96 percent clip.
Other returnees are seniors Emily Taylor (140 digs, 48 kills) and Kiarra Morris (141 digs), both of whom are known for being defensive specialists, and junior middle blocker Caitlin Underwood (60 kills, 27 blocks).
Moving up from last year's junior varsity team will be junior defensive specialist Ali Harper and junior middle hitter Destinee Walker.
Jennifer Millington, a junior, has also come out for the team for the first time.
"With new players joining the team, a few players gone and some jayvee players moving up, we have incurred some changes which appear to have strengthened the team," said Beydler. "This group has thus far impressed me with their determination and work ethic. There has been a bonding between the players that I've not seen in the past which I hope will transfer into better court play this season."
With the experience Beydler has returning, he feels his team will be much-
improved from last season, but they face an uphill climb against a brutal schedule.
"I'm a realistic coach and we are in a tough, tough district," said Beydler. "Farmington is tougher than ever with two players already committed to Division I colleges. Jackson and Poplar Bluff are always very tough and well staffed. Cape Central and Hillsboro have shown great improvement the past couple of seasons.
"We have a goal to win our conference and another goal to make it to the district championship match. The potential is there for us to have a break-out year."
With the season opener tonight at Bernie, Beydler will get an early look at how his team stacks up against a perennially strong program.
"Tonight will be one of our toughest matches this year," said Beydler. "I'll use it as a benchmark -- see where we are, what works, what doesn't, and push on from there. I am excited for the season to get under way and looking forward to see where we land."