By Rob Ketcham
The Cullman Times
After losing four senior standouts each of the last two years, Pam Wilkins is overjoyed only two departed the Addison volleyball program this spring.
Actually, overjoyed might not be the best way to put it.
“Honestly, it’s nice we had a lot of younger players that were so good,” the longtime Bulldog coach said. “But it’s hard to replace Stora (Gilliland) and Chelsea (Posey). They were so good on the back row.
“Seniors are so hard to replace. It’s so tough losing anybody. I get so attached.”
Addison is transitioning from one of its youngest rosters to what Wilkins figured is one of its oldest since she joined the program in 2002. Though Gilliland and Posey are gone, the Dawgs are returning a wealth of talent in Jessy Taylor, Summer Hinton, Jessica Robinson, Kayla Robinson, Holly Posey, Carly Westmoreland, Callie Brewer, Kelsey Denson, Katie Russell and Sarrah Martin. As Wilkins put it, the squad is “super athletic all the way across,” with Jessica Benton and Lauren Kutcher rounding out the lineup.
The coach said Westmoreland is the favorite to take the reins from Gilliland at libero (defensive specialist) and that Posey is a player she feels comfortable utilizing anywhere and everywhere on the court.
Wilkins is hopeful Addison’s experience shines through this fall and that the youthful tendencies that plagued the girls at the 2012 state tournament are gone for good. The top-ranked Bulldogs captured the first set in the Class 1A championship match versus Donoho but dropped the next three when the Falcons started to turn up the heat.
The runner-up finish was Addison’s second to Donoho in as many seasons.
“Mentally, we didn’t do our job last year. In the title game, we played young and nervous,” Wilkins said. “All of them are going to have to get out of that. They’re all going to have to step up at the same time.”
One would imagine coming up just short in the final match two years in a row — and to the same team, no less — would light a fire under the latest litter of Dawgs. Wilkins isn’t entirely convinced that’s the case, though, at least not yet. The coach said she won’t be able to tell just how hungry this group of girls will be until they have a few matches under their belts.
“That’s the part I’m worried about,” she said. “I think they want to win badly, but I guess we’ll see how aggressive they are when we start playing.”
Wilkins is thrilled to be joined on the sideline this season by former player Kayla Woodard, a key cog in three (2003-05) of the coach’s five state championships. Wilkins said she’s practically turned over the defense to her new assistant coach, who spent four years in the spotlight at Mississippi State.
Woodard, a walk-on in 2007, became the first Bulldog to garner Southeastern Conference Defensive Player of the Week recognition in 2010, the same year she was named to the 2010 ESPN Academic All-America Volleyball Team. She concluded her collegiate career with 1,433 digs in 121 matches, the third-highest total in school history.
“Having Kayla is one of our biggest assets,” Wilkins said. “She’s a really good defensive mind. That’s going to help us tremendously.”
Woodard very nearly became Wilkins’ replacement when the latter resigned from her post in the spring of 2011. Addison didn’t have a full-time teaching slot to offer Woodard, though, so Wilkins picked up where she left off as head coach at the start of the school year.
The Bulldogs will open the 2013 campaign at home Aug. 29 against Curry and Hartselle, the defending 5A champion. They’ll then turn right around and head to Montgomery that weekend to compete in the Capitol City Mayor’s Cup. Wilkins expects Addison to be one of the smallest schools in the talent-packed, 32-team field — not that she’s worried.
“It’s going to be good for us,” she said. “I think we’ll see a lot of what we’re made of there.”
Stay tuned for previews on the other teams in The Times’ coverage area as volleyball season quickly approaches.
% Rob Ketcham can be reached at 256-734-2131, ext. 138 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.