Derby volleyball qualified for state in back-to-back seasons for the second time in school history last season but fell short of the ultimate goal of a state title with an early exit in the quarterfinals against Garden City. This season, the Panthers are looking to rebuild around a solid core of returning players.
Derby lost four seniors, including Sophie Conner, who led the team in aces (61) and kills (281) last season. The Panthers also lost junior Addy Brown, who opted to turn her attention toward her future on the basketball court.
Seniors Tatum Boettjer and Adi Igo lead the Panthers with multiple seasons of experience and will be the squad’s leaders.
“Tatum and Adi will be entering their third year on varsity so, naturally, they have taken over the leadership responsibilities,” head volleyball coach Shelby Kraus said.
The Panthers hope to have outside hitter Boettjer in the lineup for the entire season this year. She received an AVCTL-I honorable mention selection despite missing seven matches due to COVID-19. According to Kraus, Boettjer has a team-first mentality and will do whatever she needs to do to ensure her team plays at its best level, which will be crucial for the inexperienced team this season.
Middle blocker Igo appeared in all 79 sets last season and returns the second most kills with 73 in 2020. Kraus praised Igo’s leadership abilities as one of the players with the most experience on the varsity level and her encouraging demeanor, which will be an excellent quality to lead a lineup that is still taking shape.
“Igo just picks everybody up,” Kraus said. “She is the motivator and encourages everybody.”
According to Kraus, senior Callie Snowbarger will be a new face on the varsity squad and will join Boettjer as another outside hitter.
“Snowbarger has a strong arm and good range,” Kraus said. “She has learned to make smart shots over the summer.”
In her freshman campaign, Addy Foster earned second team all-league honors and will be another key player with loads of experience.
“Foster leads the defense, and she sees the court really well,” Kraus said. “She tells everybody on our side what our opponent is trying to do, so that is what is good about her. She is also just a sophomore, which is really good.”
Kraus mentioned that junior Sydney Henning could be one of the primary setters for the squad this season.
“Henning played in a few varsity matches last year and will definitely be one of the setters this season,” Kraus said.
The timeline to find the right pieces for the varsity squad are tight as the AVCTL-I pre-season tournament is scheduled for Aug. 28 in Hutchinson. The Panthers will have to try to figure out the best lineup before the six-match tournament. According to Kraus, the timing is not ideal because there will not be much time to adjust the lineup during the tournament.
There have been players that have improved their game over the summer that could get a taste of varsity action, and Kraus has been elated to see the progress players have made.
“We don’t have much time to get through our tryouts and put a lineup together,” Kraus said. “I have some girls that have really stepped up this summer and made huge gains in their play.”
The start of the season could show some growing pains with only three returning starters and a limited time to play together before the beginning of the season.
“It will be a new look on the court and a rebuilding year,” Kraus said. “This is such a new group, so I have to figure out what the chemistry is going to be like, and I don’t have much time to do it before our first matches.”