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Panthers trying to replace key players

Jemison volleyball this season might replace experience with raw talent.

Five members of the 2009 team were lost to graduation, leaving coach Leighsa Robinson searching for replacements. Robinson thinks she has found them, but they might need some seasoning to reach their full potential.

“The girls I’ve got coming in have the potential,” Robinson said but added they are also inconsistent. “Sometimes we look like we’ve never missed a beat, and other times we look like we’re having to replace some players.”

Sophomore Haley Smitherman will likely replace scoring machine Tabatha Cork, Robinson said, when the Panthers open their season Aug. 19 at Montevallo.

“She’s got good hands and blocking ability and hits the ball well,” Robinson said.

Stepping in at middle blocker for Codi Mims will be sophomore Shelby Griffin and senior Kortney Robinson, who at 6 feet tall provides a presence at the net.

“Were going to be a much stronger blocking team because of her, and she’s hitting the ball well,” Leighsa Robinson said.

Kortney Robinson played two years ago but not last season.

Others to see significant playing time include junior Hallie Amos and freshman Denten Ellison.

Leighsa Robinson said Ellison is “showing a lot of potential. It’s a quicker pace game than what the middle school plays, and it’s just a matter of her settling in and getting comfortable with her position.”

To help with that transition, Robinson will use a libero position for the first time in her tenure as Jemison’s coach. Ellison, playing libero would be substituted for defensive specialist Tanya Liveoak, a junior, when Ellison’s position rotated to the back row. So, Ellison would be able to help the team by using her skills at the net but then let a more experienced defensive player come in to handle opponents’ serves.

“The serve receive is a lot different,” Robinson said. “Having a person that specializes in defense is just going to add to our defense.”

Using the libero will allow Robinson to keep at least two strong defensive players on the court at all times, which is significant because the other regular contributor lost from last year’s team was defensive specialist Dallis Vanderslice.

Senior Emily Smithey and junior Morgan Posey are two of the players that will be counted on to provide defense.

The most experienced player on the team will be setter Kasi Wells, both because of senior status but also because of her time spent playing club softball.

“She’s brought a lot to the table this year,” Robinson said. “We’ll be able to run a little different attack. It’s just a matter of the other people catching up.

It’s like having a quarterback that is seasoned and that knows the game. She’s able to teach others and share what she knows. Our team, I think they lean on her a lot.”