Last season, the Lady Bears went 12-14 with one of the youngest rosters in the region.
While Mount Airy is still young, the returning players have some experience now and could challenge for the Northwest Conference title.
Last year, East Surry swept the regular season 10-0. However, that team had heavy losses to graduation.
Don’t count coach Caleb Gilley out yet, said Bear coach Chuck Morris. He’s shown he is a very good coach, and the East JV team was good last year.
The Bears have the most cohesion of any team, returning the same coach and almost the full lineup from last year.
All the other Northwest teams have new coaches, said Morris. Atkins, Bishop McGuinness, North Stokes and Walkertown.
The Bears lost starting libero Charli Hiatt, but get back an injured libero in Skyler Flippen, who torn an ACL playing travel basketball right at the start of the volleyball campaign.
Flippen is one of four seniors in the lineup with Katie Hicks, Abby Harold and Samantha Kovack.
That number would be higher, but a couple of girls are out with knee injuries. Lily Smith suffered a torn ACL last year. That was her second tear, said Morris, so it seemed best not to try to push that knee any further with more playing.
Volleyball and softball starter Amy Kunkel hurt her knee during the spring and will miss the fall season.
Morris said he felt really badly for the seniors who miss their final season. Still, he has good depth to fill in.
Hicks and Harold will platoon at the middle spot on the front line. Kovack has experience there, too, and so does Alex Holder, a junior coming up from JV.
On the outside, the Bears have some young, but talented hitters.
Junior Megan Fleming has been on varsity since her freshman year. Morris said Megan has made a tremendous amount of improvement in the offseason and has gotten more fit, too. She likely will be a starting outside hitter.
Sadie Brooks stepped in as a freshman last year and became the team’s most efficient hitter. Morris expects a lot from her.
Another freshman looked impressive during preseason workouts, but then missed the season with a leg injury. Madeline Mayfield has a big vertical and is getting her timing down for swings.
Kovack will see time on the outside as will Jessica Bevard, a junior moving up from JV.
Settin those hitters up is returning all-conference selection Sarah Lankford.
In her third season on varsity, Sarah has gotten better and better every year, said Morris. She puts a lot of time and energy into the sport.
When Lankford needs a blow, Allie Sechrist is the team’s second setter.
On the back row, Flippen will be flanked by junior Shelbey Taylor, who was the JV team’s libero.
Morris said he expected Kayla Hicks, Katie’s cousin, to be on JV this season, but the sophomore has worked really hard and played her way into a varsity spot.
Amy might be injured, but she will still be a part of the team, Morris said. She can keep score and wants to be there to encourage her teammates.
The Bears open the season at Elkin on Tuesday. Then North Wilkes on Thursday is first home match.
Reach Jeff at 415-4692 and on Twitter @SportsDudeJeff.