College of the Ozarks Lady Bobcats enter 2018 excited to take the court and pick up where they left off in 2017.
Last season the Lady Bobcats posted a 30-7 record, capturing their second consecutive A.I.I. Championship and qualifying for the opening round of the NAIA National Championship.
While the Cats will certainly miss four-year team members Hannah Bracker and NAIA All-American Honorable Mention awardee Danielle Curnes, they will not be lacking in talent.
Returning to the court will be senior leaders Alex Spears, Kayli Grant, and Halle Huffman. Spears posted a strong 2017 season, collecting First Team All-Conference and AVCA Honorable Mention recognition, while leading her team in kills with 3.08 per set. Alex has a work ethic that is unmatched and is a leader by example. Constantly improving, Alex is expected to have an exceptional senior year. Grant enters her second year with the Lady Bobcats after making an immediate impact last season by leading her team in blocks (112). A Second Team All-Conference recipient and an incredibly hard worker on the court, Kayli looks to put an exclamation point on her career this season. Along with a strong volleyball IQ, Kayli brings a whole different level of excitement to the court that is contagious. Huffman came to CofO following an All-District career at Poplar Bluff High School. She, unfortunately, has struggled with injuries during her collegiate career, limiting her playing time. Dedicated to the team’s success, Halle will utilize her leadership abilities to serve as an assistant on the bench this season.
A strong five-member junior class also returns to the court for Coach Muckenthaler, which features NAIA Honorable Mention All-Americans Rielly Dobbs (2016, 2017) and Haley Stallings (2016), joined by Kaylee Larimer, Shay Helsel, and Maggie Plake. Dobbs posted a phenomenal sophomore season that included 1,313 assists, earning her A.I.I. Setter of the Year recognition and a Top 25 spot in the NAIA for total assists. Quarterbacking the team at the setter position, Rielly is a steady athlete who responds well in all situations and is a great encourager. Stallings is an energetic player, who was named A.I.I. Libero of the Year and ranked in the NAIA Top 20 in total digs (713) and digs per set (5.57) last year. Entering the 2018 season, she has recorded 1,823 career digs and is on pace to break the CofO career dig record of 2,305. Haley continues to improve her serve-receive passing, and she loves finding holes in the opponent’s defense. Larimer makes her way back into the lineup after struggling with injury the past two seasons. Kaylee is very consistent on offense, sees the court well, and attacks the opponent’s weaknesses. With improved endurance due to hard work, she is expected to make an impact this season. Helsel has the advantage of starting the season healthy. Shay has the skill set to enter a game and bring a positive influence, thanks to her strong defense and lateral quickness. Plake has been hard at work rehabbing an injury. As Maggie steps back on the court, it is anticipated she will be explosive at the net both offensively and defensively.
The sophomore class features two players coming off solid freshman seasons—Kaylan Smith and Ryley Thixton. Smith played in 117 sets last season, providing 154 kills, 21 solo blocks, and 48 block assists. One of the team’s most powerful hitters, Kaylan is continuing to work on offensive placement so she can use that power to her best advantage. Thixton collected 161 digs and put down 32 kills in her 2017 collegiate debut. She has made tremendous improvement in her game due to her workout efforts over the summer. Ryley is a difference-maker on the court thanks in large part to her hustle, which results in keeping the ball alive and providing opportunities for her team to score.
The 2018 freshman class includes four new recruits, all of whom posted very successful careers at the high school level. Megan Caulfield, middle hitter/right side, hails from Galena High School, where she was twice named All-State and four-times named All-Conference and All-District. She has a height advantage, standing at 6’1, and has already made good strides during strength and conditioning training. Kennedy Atkinson joins the Lady Cats from Willard High School, where she received 2nd Team All-Conference honors. A 5’10 outside hitter, she is a very consistent player who will be a silent offensive weapon for the Lady Cats. Wendy Smith played all four years at Eminence High School, where she was a 4-time All-District, 3-time All-Conference, and 2-time All-State awardee. Wendy is a 5’9 outside hitter with a lot of potential. McKenna Miller, a 5’8 setter, made a name for herself at Logan-Rogersville, collecting honors as 2-time All-State, 4-time Academic All-State, and 3-time All-District and All-Conference. McKenna will likely be used in a defensive role due to her hustle and her willingness to chase a ball down from anywhere on the court.
The Lady Bobcats enter 2018 following a summer of hard work. In addition to physical training in preparation for the season, the team offered summer camps for area girls from grades 2-12. The Lady Bobcats also had an amazing opportunity to travel to Belize and share Christ’s love at Billy White School through teaching, playing, and loving on the children.
College of the Ozarks’ volleyball team is focused on more than simply winning matches. Their team goals for 2018 are centered on being selfless, finishing strong, striving to win the College’s team GPA award, and growing closer to the Lord, both as a group and individually.
A shared bond formed over the summer months, combined with improved strength, experience, and incoming talent, finds the Lady Bobcats poised for success as they take the court in 2018.