BLUE EYE – Blue Eye High School’s volleyball team has a definite target on its back this fall.
The Lady Bulldogs claimed the school’s first district title in program history in 2018, defeating rival School of the Ozarks in three sets in the Class 1 District 6 Tournament.
Blue Eye lost to Lesterville in the sectional round, ending a 26-9 season. And the team lost Tri-Lakes Player of the Year Taylor Arnold, a consistent and effective force from a setter position who shared Southwest Central League Player of the Year honors.
Also lost to graduation are all-conference first-teamers Trinity Young and Kenzie Hobbs, plus honorable mention all-SWCL pick Hope Smith. Even with those talented individuals gone, there’s still a sense that teams will be gunning to take down the Lady Bulldogs. That’s fine with coach Taylor Wittl.
“I think it’s a good pressure, not one of those scary pressures,” Wittl said. “The ones we have who weren’t starters, they want to prove that they are capable of stepping up and doing what we did last year.
“I think it’s a good, hungry, healthy pressure.”
The team lost five seniors from that team, which won 45 games in the last two seasons, losing to S of O in three sets in the 2017 district finals before making school history with last fall’s title. Senior Maddie Box said it will be strange taking the court without Arnold, who finished with totals of 599 assists, 320 digs, 46 kills and 36 service aces in her final year. She is currently on the basketball team at Evangel University.
“I think we’re going to be really good this year, but it’s going to be weird not having a setter that we’ve done everything with,” Box said. “We don’t have that yet, but we also brought back a lot of people, so we’re confident.”
During summer work and preseason preparation, there has been no backing down from expectations or past accomplishments.
“We did a ropes course team bonding camp, and we talked about our theme for the year, and we came up with the word ‘opportunity.’ ” Wittl said.. “So we’re just looking at everything as an opportunity, so we would like the chance to be able to embrace the chance and the opportunity to do it again and to go further than we did last year.”
There are some familiar faces back for this season, led by senior Kohnnar Patton, a basketball commit to Evangel University who was a second team All-SWCL pick after ranking second on the team with 229 kills last year.
Sophomore twins Riley Arnold (libero) and Avery Arnold (setter) are back, along with senior outside hitter Maddie Box. New faces who will get an opportunity to contribute include senior setter Jaelyn Brown, sophomore middle hitter Kyla Warren, junior Bailey Owens and freshman Samantha George.
“They are excited, we’ve had a really good summer, a lot of girls showing up throughout the summer, every day,” Wittl said. “I think we’re ready to start seeing some games, and actual competition will be fun.”
Many of the players on the team have helped the entire girls’ athletic program at Blue Eye become accustomed to winning.
In addition to the volleyball district title, Blue Eye finished second in the state as a team at the state cross country championships last fall, won a repeat district title in basketball over the winter, then won the school’s first state title in girls’ track in the spring.
“We want to win districts again, and we have a lot of expectations,” Box said. “I think that’s good, because it keeps us hungry and makes us work harder.”
Given that recent history, it may be an odd feeling if there wasn’t a district championship or run deep into the postseason.
“It would be weird, because we have this streak going,” Box said.
The Lady Bulldogs will open the season with a home match against Cassville on Sept. 3, with other highlights on the schedule a trip to S of O on Sept. 19, tournaments at Forsyth and Hollister, and matches against Hurley, Clever, Billings and Crane – all 20-plus victory programs from 2018.
Blue Eye Volleyball Schedule
Sept. 3: Cassville
Sept. 6: at Reeds Spring
Sept. 10: at Berryville (Arkansas)
Sept. 12: at Hurley
Sept. 14: Forsyth Tournament
Sept. 17: Hollister
Sept. 19: at School of the Ozarks
Sept. 23: Southwest
Sept. 26: Clever
Sept. 28: Galena Lady Bear Classic
Oct. 1: at Sparta
Oct. 3: Fordland
Oct. 8: Spokane
Oct. 10: at Galena
Oct. 14: at Billings
Oct. 17: at Purdy
Oct. 19: Hollister Invitational
Oct. 21: Forsyth
Oct. 24: Crane