With seven seniors graduating from last year’s state-qualifying team, the North Pulaski Falcon volleyball team is in a rebuilding mode. Only three seniors comprise this year’s team that includes one returning starter.
“We are a young team and don’t have the same type of athletes,” North Pulaski Coach Benjie Belton said. “We are better defensively but not as good hitting-wise and have two young sophomores in the middle.”
The lone returning starter is senior setter Emily Long. Named all-conference last year, Long has been out for the last two weeks with a shoulder injury. She hasn’t been able to set or serve and is doing therapy to try and return. Taking her place for now is Casey Mullen, and she is settling into the position. The sophomore middles are Kiarra Evans and Miakiah Brown. Sophomore Raigen Thomas is an outside hitter as is junior Payton Mullen. Junior Breezy Russell, a transfer from North Little Rock, is the other starter.
Last season, the Falcons advance to the 5A state tournament before falling to Alma in the first round. Belton sees some improvement in areas over last year, but realizes hitting won’t be a strong suit for them like last year.
“This is the first time the whole team knows where they are supposed to be,” he said. “The only thing is we aren’t ready. Defensively, we cover better and serve receive a lot better.”
While the current Falcon players don’t have the athletic ability of past teams, Belton is enjoying them because they are a great group of girls. They get along which is something he is not used to seeing.
“This is the best group of girls since I’ve been here,” he said. “There is no drama, and they have chemistry and no issues. That makes it fun.”
North Pulaski played Greenbrier last week and lost in three sets. Belton says they just didn’t play well, but he saw glimpses of good play at team camp this summer so know potential exists. He says they progressed every day and was pleased with how well they played with the other teams. For him, it will be interesting to see how the season progresses and how the Falcons improve as a team.
North Pulaski begins conference play today against West Helena.