ALTAMONT — Monsters are scariest in the shadows. Are the new-look, reloaded Labette County Grizzlies ready to cast themselves into the light?
A revamped roster will take over the mantle for Labette County volleyball, a program that’s won two straight SEK League titles and went to state both those years.
Gone, though, is the senior class that helmed the Grizzlies — headlined by Anna Dean and Karsyn Stewart, both playing college volleyball at Hutchinson and Labette respectively.
“We’ve got to go back to basics. We’ve got incredibly athletic kids in our gym,” Labette County head coach Heather Wilson said. “We’ve got to make it fit the mold that creates an athletic, smart player. It’s going to be really fun and really rewarding for everybody.”
Finding the right puzzle pieces will be a trial-and-error approach for Wilson.
“I’m going to field a larger team than normal because the variables are unique,” WIlson said. “Everybody has to understand their role. That’s cliche, but it really is important that everybody recognizes that each other’s roles are different.”
There are three returning players with varsity experience. First team All-SEK setter Shelbi Wilson, who tallied 757 assists and averaged 7.7 per set last fall, will captain the squad.
“Ultimately, she’s got to be really positive,” Wilson said. “She’s got to recognize her hitter’s strengths and where and when to go to them. That’ll come with more reps. But she needs to score points more too. That’s something she didn’t have to do last year that we’ll need her to do this year.”
Shelbi will be tasked with balancing setting and hitting duties after spending three years teeing up one of the most dynamic offenses in the state.
“She’s never been a one-dimensional player. But she’s got to develop as a deeper threat than just a dump threat,” Wilson said.
Ridley Lynn, who was fifth on Labette County’s roster with 63 kills last season, also returns and will feature prominently.
“She wasn’t a six-rotation player last year, but she played a vital role,” Wilson said. “She came along last year when we needed her. She’s a positive kid that’ll do anything you ask her to do. She knows what it’s like to win and what varsity competition looks like.”
The third returner is Addison Rexwinkle, a junior who appeared in 42 of the Grizzlies’ 98 sets in 2021.
“She’s got some varsity experience,” Wilson said. “She understands the level of play.”
Kayton O’Brien, a transfer from Oklahoma Union who is immediately eligible, injects depth into the void left behind.
“She’ll share some setting responsibility,” WIlson said. “She has a high IQ and came from a quality program in Oklahoma that went to state. She’s got to adapt to the speed of play and I know she will. She’s a bright spot in resiliency.”
The SEK League race will be a mad scramble this fall. Parsons, Fort Scott, Independence, Pittsburg will all be in the mix. The crown is still Labette County’s to defend.
“After the first round of league play, we’ll know where everybody is and know who to shoot for,” Wilson said. “That’s what’s fun about the league. Volleyball is so much about peaks and valleys. We can’t just wade in the valley when it happens. There’s not a ‘supposed to win’ team this year.”
Labette County opens its season with a quad of non-league matches at home against Pittsburg, Independence and rival Parsons.
“We can’t get trapped in what we used to do and what we used to be,” Wilson said. “We’ver got to focus on who we are. That’ll be who faces what’s across the net. I’m excited for these kids to create their own legacy and not live in the shadow. These kids deserve that opportunity.”