The Woodford County High School volleyball team takes the court this season with an eye toward recapturing the 41st District title for the second time in three years. While still a young squad, Woodford finished last season just short of reaching the 41st District championship game with a tough 3-2 loss in the opening round of the tournament to Franklin County. This year, under third-year head coach Meghan Bottom’s leadership, the team is looking forward to a strong season and achieving a title once again. “Players have shown the willingness to push themselves and their teammates,” said Bottom. “I have seen unselfish play, encouragement and sacrifice. These components are the foundation of a strong team; one that is willing to push harder to achieve team goals. I look forward to watching them grow closer as a team.” Bottom, and WCHS fans, got to see a preview of the team at the recent Bluegrass State games on Saturday and Sunday, July 30 and 31, at KBA. There the team went 2-4 against some stiff, local competition and scored wins over Cooper and Walton Verona. Overall this season, the team will play more than 30 matches, but the key ones will be against their two district opponents, Franklin County [Sept. 1 (A) and Oct. 4 (H)) and Western Hills (Aug. 18 (A) and Oct. 6 (H)]. That early game against Western Hills will give the team a good indication of what still needs to be worked on and what they can accomplish this season. “Our district should be fairly balanced this year,” said Bottom. “All three teams are returning several key players and are developing new varsity talent.” While the district should be balanced this year, Bottom explains what the keys will be for Woodford to achieve overall success. “Winning districts this year will be dependent on our ability to show mental toughness and pull together as a team; putting team goals before individual ones,” said Bottom. “We have several upperclassmen who will play key roles in elevating our competitiveness with their own play, as well as their mentorship of some very promising younger players.” Bottom will look to three of her senior players – Caleigh Evans, Mary Crutchfield and Kennedy Morgan – to step up and be team leaders this year. All three have a lot of playing experience and the ability to help the younger players elevate their play so that the team can accomplish its goals. Offensively, Woodford will run a 6-2 again this year, with Morgan and freshman Evelyn Milburn handling the setting duties. Playing middle blocker will be Evans, who Bottom believes will be the team’s top offensive threat, and junior Lauren Smiley, who got better and better with each game she played last season and should be a strong offensive threat as well. Both players have good blocking abilities as well. At the outside hitting position, Woodford has four players, one with a lot of experience in junior Alex Gililland, and three up-and-coming freshmen in Georgia Sutterlin, Karigan Smith and Laura Crutchfield. All four players can put the ball down for a kill at any time, while also defending well and scoring points with their blocking abilities. At the right-side/opposite position, Morgan and Barrier both have a lot of playing experience and can get the job done. In addition, when Morgan is on the right side, it gives Woodford another setting option in case of a misplaced pass to Milburn. On the back row, Mary Crutchfield will once again play the libero position. She is a solid passer who can get the ball to the setter on either service returns or digs. Also playing on the back row as defensive specialists when Mary Crutchfield rotates out will be two other seniors, Sophie Adams and Ashlyn Chumley. Adams saw a lot of playing time last year and is not only a good passer, but a strong server as well. Chumley is new to the varsity this year. She attended and played at Lafayette her freshman year, then transferred to Woodford and did not play her sophomore or junior year. As for serving, Bottom believes Mary Crutchfield, Evans, Adams and Morgan will be the team’s top servers this season. Woodford opens its season with three road games. The first is at Marion County on Tuesday, Aug. 16. The second is a district match against Western Hills on Thursday, Aug. 18, and the third is at West Jessamine on Tuesday, Aug. 23. Woodford’s first home game is against Nelson County on Wednesday, Aug. 24. All four games start a 7:30 p.m.