The Blue Springs South volleyball team had its best season ever in 2016.
The Jaguars made it to the Class 5 state quarterfinals for the first time in school history and won the Suburban Big Seven Conference title.
That team was led by a few talented seniors and South lost five of them, including all-state players Genna Berg and Camryn Gregston.
This year is going to be a little bit different for Dave MacLean’s Jaguars as he will have to work on helping build the team’s chemistry with just four returning starters.
In fact, there is not one senior on the varsity squad, but South has some players with plenty of upside.
Among the returners are juniors Rylie Gregston, Taylor Brungardt, Katie Sparks and Hannah LaPour, all of whom played a pivotal role in South’s success last season, and they will look to lead some of the younger players.
“Those four really complemented our senior group last year,” MacLean said. “They blended really well together and as sophomores, they played better than their age. Now, these girls have to try and bring in a whole new group into the team. It’s their turn to be the leaders even though their juniors.”
MacLean will have a bevy of players off the junior varsity team that lost just one match last year to choose from to fill the remaining three spots in the starting rotation. He has four who are 6-foot or taller as candidates to fill a middle hitter position, and MacLean is also searching for a libero as Gregston is shifting from that spot to setter.
“This team has a lot of potential and one of our goals is to see how good our team can be,” MacLean said. “We are moving in some young kids and we want to get them to buy into how we play the game and how we want to defend and run our sideout offense.
“We’re going to look at some sophomores who physically are pretty talented and mature, but they are still sophomores.”
Added Brungardt: “Last year we were a smaller team. This year, we’re going to be tall.”
So far, it’s been a smooth transition for Gregston as setter, as she’s taking over the position that was occupied by her sister the last three years.
“It’s going to be really nice to have height because we can run a faster tempo with them,” Gregston said. “I like getting to touch every ball and as a setter you get to lead more and make more decisions.
Added Brungardt: “She’s our new Camryn Gregston.”
Brungardt also is making a position switch, going from middle hitter to the outside, which she said is her more natural position.
“She’s not the tallest kid, but she has the fastest arm swing,” MacLean said. “She’s aggressive and wants to win. She now gets to play the position she is more suited for.”
Added Gregston: “She’s the new Genna Berg.”
It will be a challenge for South to adjust to life without Berg. The Jaguars will look to share kills.
“All around we’ll just have to play better,” Brungardt said. “We can’t go straight to Genna anymore. I think all of our hitters will have to do better.”
LaPour will remain a middle hitter and Sparks will stay at outside hitter. MacLean said the key is for his four returning starters to build chemistry with the younger players, which will take some time, he said.
“It’s a learning curve for those girls to play against others who are two years older than them,” MacLean said of his sophomores. “We have height, we just need that jelling. We need to teach them fundamentals, but they are ready to play fast.”
Even though the Jaguars will have some things to work through, MacLean said his team still has the potential to make some noise this year.
If you ask Gregston and Brungardt, the goal is to win conference and get back to the state quarterfinals. Last season, Ozark spoiled South’s chance of its first state final four berth.
“That’s what we want, to go back there and hopefully win,” Gregston said. “We want to beat Ozark.”