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Marion volleyball readies for 2022 campaign

Photo Credit: Chuck Livingston

MARION VOLLEYBALL READIES FOR 2022 CAMPAIGN

Marion volleyball coach Lisa Beasley glides across the court at 3M Transit Arena as the clock draws near 5 p.m. and cracks a joke to veteran assistant coach Shayla Williams. “We need to wrap this up pretty soon because a lot of our girls' rides are waiting,” said Beasley. “Most of the time in the past a lot of our players were able to drive themselves.” A quick glance at Marion's 2022 volleyball roster confirms Beasley's claim. Eight sophomores pop off the page, more than double the club's three seniors. A program-first four freshmen stands out, as does zero juniors. “It's like (longtime Arkansas men's basketball coach) Nolan Richardson said 'if a dog is going to bite you, it'll bite you as a pup,'” said the coach. “Just because this group is young doesn't mean they can't play. This group loves volleyball and they seem to love playing together.” The relative youth of the 2022 Patriots contrasts with the 2021 outfit. Nine seniors played major roles in guiding last year's edition of Marion volleyball to a stellar 27-2 record, featuring the best single-season winning percentage in program history, the fewest losses in a single season, and the longest winning streak (27 games) since the program's birth in 1996. Marion won a conference title and advanced to the state semifinals for the first time 2016. “Last year will always be one of the more fun years since I've been at Marion,” said Beasley, who opens her 26th season as Patriot volleyball coach next Thursday with a benefit scrimmage at Brookland. “We got along, we played great, we won a lot of games, and it was just a pleasure to be around them.” Marion hosted the 2021 Class 5A state volleyball tournament for the first time ever. The Pats downed White Hall in straight sets in the bracket's opening round before eliminating defending state champion Greenwood in a five-set war in front of a raucous crowd at Fidelity Bank Arena. Mascot Media later selected the quarterfinal match as its 2021-2022 Event of the Year. The Greenwood victory was especially sweet for Marion considering the Bulldogs eliminated the Pats from the previous two state tournaments. Marion won the first set of the semifinals against Benton before a marathon third set went the way of the Panthers 31-29. Benton went on to down Marion in four sets before getting to match point three times in the state final against Little Rock Christian before losing in five sets. “In my book last year's team will forever be one of the best teams we've ever had here,” said Beasley. “We had so many moments that I'll never forget, and we were right there with the best two or three teams in the state.” Beasley will lean heavily on her three seniors, and Kiah Rucker, Madison Allison, and Meredith Williams will be up to the task. Rucker, Marion's only returning all-conference performer of a season ago, “can hit, block, and do everything at an extremely high level,” said Beasley. “She's always been able to put the ball down, but you have to defend her even more so now.” Rucker ranked fourth last season on the team with 108 kills, and second with 57 blocks. Allison, who's also one of the tennis team's better singles players, racked up 28 kills and 11 digs last year, and she earned more playing time as the season drew on. “She can flat out rip the line outside,” said Beasley. “She can get up and put the ball down with authority. She's stepped it up big time this off-season.” Williams saw extensive varsity action last fall before emerging as a team leader during the off-season. “She's had stretches this summer where she's just been a beast,” said the coach. “I don't see any reason she won't have her best year, yet.” Sophomores Maggie Miller and Alexa Shinabery promoted to the varsity last year, and each enjoyed big moments at crucial times. Miller started seven games as the team's primary setter last October, and ranked fourth on the team with 60 assists. “She's got outstanding hands,” said the coach. “Her sets are remarkable, and her court savvy is unreal. I just like watching her play.” Shinabery came in to serve last September at Batesville after the Pioneers earned the opening set in front of a raucous Pioneer Gymnasium. Shinabery served Marion to the first seven points of the second set as the Pats won in four. The sophomore “can jump out of the gym,” said the coach. “She's athletic as heck, and makes things happen when you really shouldn't be able to.” Freshman libero Kaitlyn Austin is a “dynamite, firecracker type of player,” said Beasley. “She brings energy and excitement every day for us. Her passing and court awareness are exceptional for any player, let alone a freshman.” Freshman Kennedy Bullins paced last year's conference runner-up junior high team in kills and blocks, and she could play most rotations for this year's senior-high varsity club. “She's an excellent player, but a better person,” said Beasley. “She's pleasant every day. She always has a smile on her face. Her skill level is extremely high, but she also works hard. She will have an excellent career here. The sky's the limit for this one.” Freshmen Taylor Chamness and Aynslee Coad will see action on the back and front rows, respectively, and “their futures are bright,” said Beasley. “They do what we ask, and they always compete.” Sophomores Ashlynn Baggett, Micahya Brown, Carlie Ann Cantrell, Carley Key, Anna Wehrum, and Kelsey Wright emerged during the off-season. Baggett, Wehrum, and Wright likely see action this year on the front row. Cantrell impressed as a defensive specialist, while Key emerged as a setter. Brown turned in a good off-season, and “can play about any position,” said Beasley. “We just have to find her best fit.” Marion returns to 3M Transit Arena this season for its home games. The Patriots have not played in that building since beating Lonoke on October 24, 2019, a stretch of 1,034 days since they played in their original home. Marion hosts Beebe on August 23 at 3M Transit Arena. Most volleyball matches will be streamed live this season on MarionPatriots.com and on the Marion Patriots Activities Network mobile app.

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