Entering the 2011 season, the Borger Lady Bulldog volleyball team returns four players off last yearâ€™s regional semi-final team. For many programs, the loss of so many players would lead to a rebuilding phase as younger players adjust to the varsity level. However for the Lady Bulldogs, a good amount of talent is coming up the pipeline which should form a team able to make a playoff run come October.
In 2010, the Lady Bulldogs reached the 3A Regional Semi-Finals for the second time in five years setting the tone for a good off-season.
On looking back at what making the regional tournament meant for the program, Borger Head Volleyball Coach Michael Littlejohn said, â€śI do think going that far was a breakthrough in the program because we hadnâ€™t gone that far since 2007. It set the tone for a good off-season and summer, but we lost eight seniors from the team so there is no question we have our work cut out for us.â€ť
While several young players are expected to step up to play key roles at the varsity level, the four returning players give the Lady Bulldogs a good nucleus to build around.
Returning are senior three year letterman Raygen Eakins, setter Kristen Mills. defensive specialist Bethany Harris and junior outside hitter Haley Armstrong.
Armstrong and Eakins saw a lot of time on the floor last season and will be looked on to fill some of the void left by the graduation of Jâ€™Cee Pool and Emma Boren. Littlejohn said, â€śEmma and Jâ€™Cee were gifted athletes that wonâ€™t be replaced. But I am confident that Haley and Raygen will step in and fill those roles well. Both have worked hard in the summer and should have good seasons.â€ť
As to who will join Armstrong and Eakins at the net, as of Thursday, Littlejohn said he was still trying to determine who would fill out his varsity roster that includes several good net players battling for spots. Littlejohn said, â€śRight now I am in the process of figuring out who are my best players at the different spots and who would perform well if I moved them somewhere else on the floor. Its a good problem but this year has been a challenge in trying to figure out who will fill out the final spots on the varsity team.â€ť With that being the dilemma, the good news will be that whoever makes up the junior varsity squad should form a team that can win several matches and compete for a district title of their own this season.
Battling for spots on the front row include juniors Emma Wood, Blaine Hill, Kaylee Purcell along with sophomores Katie Ammerman, Lauren Purcell and Nellie Embers
Setter will be in good hands with Mills and junior Nicole McMurry doing a good job in that role last season despite battling injuries.
Joining Harris in the back row will be seniors Lauren Hernandez, Dakota Karins, and Allyson Burrows. Other players battling for a spot in the back row for the team include juniors Emily Espino, Stephanie Soto, Hannah Barbor, Maggie McMurry, Tootie Karins and sophomores Breezy Brown, Mackenzie Loftis, and Saydee Throckmorton.
When talking about this yearâ€™s team, Littlejohn appears optimistic but understands there will be a learning and growing process for the group saying, â€śWe are still trying to figure out who is going to step up and be leaders as well as trying to learn how to work together on the floor as a team.â€ť Littlejohn added, â€śWe play a tough non-district schedule again so there is no question we will probably experience some growing pains but I think that will make us better once we get ready to go into district play.â€ť
2010 1-3A District Champions Pampa lost only two players from last year leading Littlejohn to say they should be the odds-on favorites to win the district title again. But the Borger coach isnâ€™t selling his team short and believes another playoff run is possible saying, â€śOur expectation is to compete for the district title or at least claim the number two playoff spot. But last year showed in claiming the third playoff spot in the district we still were able to make it to the regional semi-finals. So it comes down to playing good in district but also playing at a high level and getting better during the playoffs.â€ť
The Lady Bulldogs open the 2011 season on Tuesday evening in Canyon taking on Bushland and Canyon in a triangular starting at 5:00 p.m.