REEDS SPRING – As Molly Illum enters her third season as the volleyball coach at Reeds Spring High School, there’s an added layer of comfort within the program.
Illum, who teaches at the middle school, now has two classes of players who started off with her and developed a connection with her before they even reached high school.
Add in another season – and summer – worth of work with the team’s upperclassmen, and it has led to optimism of improving on last season’s 15-14 final record.
“I love where we’re at,” Illum said before a practice earlier this week. “Year three is where you really start to get your personality influencing the program.
“Now they are my students and my volleyball girls, and that relationship piece is way more than half of coaching. I am so happy with it.”
Illum has a couple of big guns in a pair of experienced and decorated seniors: Kamryn Hopper and Carley Reeves-Eakins.
Reeves-Eakins has taken a winding road to her senior season at Reeds Spring.
She missed the last two basketball seasons because of ACL tears in the same knee, and she was sidelined for part of this summer after being diagnosed with an eye disease that required surgery.
“It was frustrating at first, but I wouldn’t want it any other way,” she said about her injury history. “I’ve learned so much from being hurt, and from watching on the sidelines. That helps an athlete more than people think.”
Reeves-Eakins said she sometimes feels the effects of the eye problem, but is thankful for the time she is able to be on the court and competing for her school.
“I take every point, every play and every practice as a gift, because who knows when it’s going to be your last,” she said.
Reeves-Eakins and Hopper each earned all-conference accolades a year ago in the team’s inaugural season in the Big 8 Conference, and both earned all-area team honors.
Reeves-Eakins finished with a team-high 103 kills to go with 32 service aces from an outside hitter position, with Hopper adding 195 digs and 33 aces as the team’s libero.
“I think this team has a lot of potential, and we have one goal throughout the team, to win,” Hopper said.
“I think this year our bonding is a lot stronger. The freshmen coming in have a lot of potential, and they have a lot of successful experience.”
The younger classes have enjoyed some success in past years. The current group of sophomores won the Central Ozark Conference Small Division title as eighth-graders and was third in the Big 8 Conference as freshmen.
“I’d say that we have some pretty good leadership throughout this program,” Illum said.
“You see that in each grade, we have these quiet leaders who may not be the tops in statistics.
“That kind of stuff gets the freshmen in the gym, wanting to buy into what we’re building as a program. That leadership is like a servant leadership, and I think we have that at all levels.”
The current sophomore class includes versatile and talented athletes Amarah Porter and Brynn Hogan.
Seniors Ellie Silvius and Aspen Romeiser and junior Bella Fuller also contributed on the varsity level last season. Fuller was second on the team in kills (99) and Porter finished with 99 assists as a setter.
“I have such good underclassmen supporting us, and my best friends are on the team,” Reeves-Eakins said. “Knowing that they are alongside me, I don’t want to just make good memories for me, I want to make good memories for them, also.
“It isn’t just my season – it’s their season, too.”
The season schedule opens with a home match against Seneca on Sept. 5, and includes matches at Blue Eye, at nationally ranked and reigning state champion Logan-Rogersville, and the Branson Tournament and Hollister Tournament.
Reeds Spring went 10-16 in Illum’s first season, then went 15-14 last fall. That campaign included a victory over Class 1 state sectional qualifier Blue Eye and a three-set victory over a Bolivar team that finished with 24 victories.
There’s a definite sense of optimism within the program that the upward trend will continue this fall.
“It’s exciting, but I don’t ever want to put numbers on it,” Illum said. “You always want to do better than you did the year before. We’ll know if we’re better – we do have a lot of talent returning, the girls have worked hard and gotten better, ones who I’ve asked to step up in leadership roles have done that.
“That’s really exciting.”
Reeds Spring Volleyball Schedule
Aug. 27: Jamboree at Willard
Sept. 5: Seneca
Sept. 6: at Blue Eye
Sept. 7: Branson Tournament
Sept. 10: Clever
Sept. 12: at Monett
Sept. 17: at Branson
Sept. 24: at Cassville
Sept. 30: at Springfield Central
Oct. 1: Springfield Catholic
Oct. 3: at Mt. Vernon
Oct. 5: Mt. Vernon Tournament
Oct. 8: Springfield Parkview
Oct. 10: Hollister
Oct. 15: at Logan-Rogersville
Oct. 17: at Aurora
Oct. 19: Hollister Tournament
Oct. 21: Marshfield
Oct. 24: Big 8 Conference Showdown