The Lady Tigers used her injury as a rallying point to their season, and when she returned, Cedar Bluff (35-18) marched forward to the Elite Eight in Pelham.
There’s a sense of déjà vu as the 2012 season begins.
A couple of weeks ago, junior setter Raveen McElrath suffered a concussion in an automobile accident. Head coach Tiffany Ferguson said McElrath (740 assists, 358 digs, 24 kills and 17 aces last season), is fine, but she’s slowly working her way back into the lineup.
Once again, the Lady Tigers are making adjustments to the absence of a key contributor.
“What I’ve done this summer, just kind of testing it out, is I’ve moved three players to a different position,” Ferguson said. “We’re trying to adjust, but we still communicate pretty well. Just having the girls in different defensive positions, they’re not sure if that’s their ball, but once we get them to go get it and apologize later, we’ll be a lot better off.”
Filling in for McElrath until her return at setter is Brooke Wood, who played middle for the Lady Tigers last season. Wood does have some experience setting, but hasn’t done so in the past couple of seasons. Ferguson noted Wood’s versatility as being a strength.
“When Ray comes back, she can play middle, she can play right side, she can play DS (defensive specialist),” Ferguson said. “It depends on who stays in what position.”
Ferguson is shifting last season’s All-County MVP Audrianna Hargitt from outside hitter to middle. Hargitt led the Lady Tigers last season with 709 kills, 569 digs, 108 aces and 60 blocked shots.
Fereguson said the senior is “a threat no matter where she’s at.”
“When we got to the state tournament (last season), I felt like we needed a bigger block. I’ve moved her back to middle just to try and see if we can pass well enough to get her the ball in the middle, which was why I moved her to the outside in the first place last year,” Ferguson said. “We weren’t passing the ball enough for her to hit enough, in my opinion. I need her in the middle to block. Hopefully we’ll get our passing down to where we can leave her in the middle. If not, we’ll have to move her back to the outside.”
While Hargitt is making a potential move, another Lady Tiger senior is staying put: outside hitter Hannah Leach. Leach accumulated 435 kills, 317 digs, 89 aces, seven blocks and four assists last season.
Sophomore Paige Bryant, who stepped in for Dupree last season, will help on the right side. Ferguson said her main attribute is she’s left-handed.
“If you have a left-handed player, you want them to be a right-side hitter,” she said. “I moved her over there and she really stepped up last year. It was her first year playing and I was really surprised and really pleased with how well she came in just one season. She’s become a really good passer. Over the summer, she’s been working on her arm swing. She’s starting to hit pretty well too.”
Making the move to varsity this season is another sophomore in Jasmine Adams.
“She was our junior high setter last year,” Ferguson said of Adams. “We’ve been working with her a little with setting and also with blocking. We might put her in the front row, maybe on the right side if we need help blocking.”
Ferguson also has a pair of freshmen returning to her lineup in Abby Storey and Marigrace Wilson.
“They both started playing varsity when they were in seventh grade,” Ferguson said. “They’ve come a really long way in just two seasons. Marigrace had to come in and immediately play middle blocker on the varsity level. Middle blocker is probably one of the hardest positions you can play. You’re just constantly back and forth. She’s done really well. Her blocking improved a lot over last season.
“Abby probably has one of the better arm swings on the team. She’s just short. I thought she had a really good arm swing last year, but I didn’t feel like her confidence level was there. I’ve seen a big change in her over the summer. She’s even been swinging hard at balls on the back row that nobody would expect her to swing at. That’s what I want. I want them all to be like that. She’s been doing a really good job.”
Even with a lot of returning players, Ferguson knows making a return trip to the postseason will be difficult. Cedar Bluff competes in Class 1A, Area 13 with Spring Garden, Gaylesville and newcomer Collinsville.
If the Lady Tigers make it out of area tournament play, the new sub-regional format in Huntsville awaits, followed by the state tournament in Birmingham.
In order to prepare the Lady Tigers for what could possibly await them in the postseason, Ferguson scheduled several tough tournaments to give Cedar Bluff exposure to different styles of play. The Lady Tigers are scheduled to play in the Albertville tournament (aug. 25), the Donoho tournament (Sept. 15), the Piedmont tournament (Sept. 22), the Cherokee County Tournament at Gaylesville (Sept. 29), and their own tournament on Oct. 13.
“I want them to see a variety of different styles, so nothing surprises them come postseason,” Ferguson said.
Even before the 2012 season starts on Aug. 23 at Glencoe with Gaylesville, one major hurdle has already been cleared by the Lady Tigers.
That hurdle is confidence.
“I’m just thrilled that now they have the confidence and that desire to get back (to state), Ferguson said. “I was really surprised at how well they did last year at state. It’s very overwhelming when you’ve never played in that arena before. Instead of being scared and overwhelmed, they came out and won their first match and played pretty well. I’m hoping they carry that confidence with them into this season, but at the same time, I hope they realize as great as that was, last year doesn’t matter anymore.”