New season on the horizon: Callaway volleyball looks to build on historic 2022 season

Published 8:05 am Thursday, August 3, 2023

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The Callaway volleyball team is gearing up for another season. The team enjoyed a historic 2022 in which they reached the elite eight for the first time in program history. Now, second-year coach Shelby Goins has to avoid the pitfalls of most sequels and keep the bar as high as the team set it in year one.

“We feel like we have unfinished business from last year,” Goins said. “I want Callaway to really make a name for ourselves and not have people say ‘they were only good last year.’”

The Cavaliers run was historic in more ways than one; the team was the final public school standing last season with the other seven AA quarterfinalists were all private schools. 

It will be tough sledding again for the Cavaliers this season, but they are more experienced even with the loss of six seniors from last year’s team. 

“Just because we lost those seniors doesn’t mean we can’t maintain that status that we have set,” Goins said. 

The six seniors — Tristan Bussey, Raine Hunt, Kate McAteer, Amoria McFarlin, Shelby Thompson and Calia Williams — plus rising-senior Mary Kate Baswell, who is transitioning to competitive cheerleading, will be tough to replace. They were the foundation of the 2022 team, but the Cavaliers have important pieces still in place.

“Lacey Thomas, who is our middle, and Blair Littlefield, who is our setter, are our two varsity captains,” Goins said. “They have been with the program all four years and they are leaders in the classroom and the court.

“I can’t wait to see them go out there and dominate the court in their senior years.” 

The duo are the heart and soul of the Cavaliers team in 2023. 

The Cavaliers will also see Raniyah Mahone return, who got plenty of experience as a sophomore last season. 

The varsity team will be a tight close-knit unit this season with only seven players. Lillian Beall, Jada McKee, Ava Taylor and Shamya Wilinson all made the cut and three of those girls could very well be starters this season as Goins continues to search for her best lineup going into the season. 

“We have a lot of girls that we have moved up from JV, and the team hasn’t really played together yet,” Goins said. “It has been cool to watch these girls experience what it is like to be on varsity. 

“We haven’t had a lot of opportunities to have everybody together yet that is what makes this week so exciting as we get everybody back on the same page.”

McKee, a senior, has past basketball experience and Goins believes she will be a key figure for the team despite it being her first year playing at Callaway.

Christiauna Toolsie, Alayna Leithleiter and Ale’yah Dunn will all likely get moved up from JV to varsity this season. Dunn missed all of last season with an injury, but served as the team’s manager.

“It has been great to see how far she has come since last year,” Goins said. 

There will be plenty of depth and pieces to bring in in emergency situations. The JV team consists of  Natalie Ball, K’mya Carter, Kaleigh Harris, A’kira Hornsby, Baylor Keith, Jaylynn Nelms, Tapu Shah and Norma Trinidad. These girls will get some valuable playing time as they prepare for a future on the varsity team. 

Sorting through the best lineups has been tough this summer for the Cavaliers who have been without their gym, which is undergoing renovations. 

“We have had some struggles with our gym being closed,” Goins said. “The team has had to use the small gym and work around other sports.

“We won’t get the chance to play many home games to start our season, which will also be tough.”

With the gym set to be closed into September and possibly October or further, the team will not have many home games to start the season. The region games are late in the season, which allows the Cavaliers to try and build some momentum heading into the home stretch.

“The beginning of the season is all about figuring out the girls strengths and weaknesses and figuring out the best positions for them,” Goins said. “A lot of our region play is at the end of the season and that is when we are going to have to prove ourselves the most.”

Goins is in no excuse mode and will get to tinker with her lineup and test some of her young girls on Thursday when the team scrimmages against Troup and LaGrange. The Cavaliers unfurled their first volleyball banner earlier this year, and it is a grand achievement for Goins, but she has both eyes on the future as the team sits on the doorstep of a new season.