Volleyball practices opened statewide Monday in Alabama, and among those taking the court for their first August training sessions this week will be Dadeville.
The Tigers are under a first-year head coach in Ashley Henderson, but with a wealth of upperclassmen to turn to, the signal caller is hoping she can help propel the program forward in 2021.
“I want them to be a team,” Henderson said. “I want them to focus on their growth and their grade, learn every position, those types of things.”
It may be Henderson’s first year at the top of Dadeville’s volleyball program, but it isn’t her first with the team.
She served as an assistant coach on the staff of previous head coach Vicky McDonald, who led the Tigers to a runner-up finish in Class 3A Area 6 in her one season leading the team last year.
“I’m just picking up where she left off,” Henderson said. “She was remarkable.”
Her first June and July at the helm has mainly been focused on volleyball basics, along with getting the group re-acquainted with what a typical offseason looks like.
It’s been a nice change of pace from the disruptions provided by COVID-19 in 2020.
“This summer we’re just going through the drills, going through the motions,” Henderson said. “Last year was different than many other seasons leading up to the actual season. We’ve just been trying to get back into the flow of things, still taking precautions, and just repetition. Getting in there and making sure we have the fundamentals down.”
Having senior leadership has helped the Tigers get back in the flow of things.
Natori Giles returns to the floor for Dadeville in 2021, an honorable mention selection for the 2020 All-Outlook volleyball team.
“Tori is a powerhouse, natural leader,” Henderson said. “She’s a lot of fun to coach. She’s grown so much since the 10th grade when I got to know her.”
Henderson added she feels all the team’s seniors are potent weapons in the Tigers’ offense. Much like Giles, she referred to Layla Grace as a powerhouse, adding that her upbeat leadership style has been good for the team’s mentality.
Her physical skill set has been a plus as well.
“She’s tall,” Henderson said with a chuckle. “She jumps well and she’s able to make contact with the ball in a way that makes every coach happy.”
Carrying on some of McDonald’s philosophy when it comes to attacking, Henderson will rely on player versatility in her scheme.
A wealth of varsity players for the Tigers can play the role of setter at a given time. Giles will be used on both the front and back rows this season.
Junior Jaidyn Gossett was described as “perfect” for the libero position by Henderson and she’ll be deployed in such a capacity throughout the season when the team needs a defensive specialist.
“She has such a high level of confidence because she can back up what she says she can do,” Henderson said. “She’s not intimidated by anything. She gets in there and handles the job, and when you have that type of skill and leadership, it just makes a difference.”
D’Aja Caldwell is another junior that could have an impact after landing All-Outlook honorable mention in 2020.
After three weeks of practice to sort through the specifics of their lineups and strategies, Henderson said the Tigers will have a clearer view of what comes next.
Dadeville plays its first match against Reeltown Aug. 28.
“I do have a lot of confidence in this group of young women, and I look forward to this season,” Henderson said.