by Michael Smith
The Grain Valley volleyball team had an outstanding 2021 campaign.
The Eagles finished with a 24-5-2 record and their second consecutive Suburban White Conference championship. However, they fell in three sets to Blue Springs South in the district tournament and will be looking for more postseason success this time around.
And they will try to make a deep playoff run without four seniors that graduated in May, who got varsity playing time in 2021. But head coach Tori Squires in confident this version of the Eagles can have a good season.
“I think this senior class is bringing in a lot of leadership,” Squiers said. “Some of the younger players are stepping up as well. We have the talent.”
Squiers noted that the schedule in 2022 should better prepare the Eagles for the postseason as the team will face strong non-conference teams like Blue Springs, Blue Springs South, Lee’s Summit, and Lee’s Summit West.
“That’s where we struggled last year, we didn’t have that kind of competition before the playoffs.” Squiers said. “We didn’t play the higher class teams throughout the season. I think that will help us this year, having more of an insight of what we will be facing at districts.”
Added senior setter Dru Iles: “I think it’s going to be really good for us to play tougher teams because last year we dominated. It will prepare us for districts.”
At the net, Adelyn Bybee will lead the Eagles. The 6-foot-1 senior racked up 259 kills, 24 blocks, 20 aces and 101 digs in 31 games for Grain Valley in 2021. Bybee will be a right side hitter and joining her will be Kayla Gallagher, who will be playing at outside hitter and got some playing time off the bench and made an impact for the Eagles last season.
“She has made huge strides,” Squiers said of Gallagher. “We’re hoping she can be our sixth rotational player.”
Added Bybee: “I am excited to work with them on blocking schemes and helping them set up shots.”
Blue Springs transfer Izabella West and Allison Schaffer could also contribute as right side hitters. At middle hitter, the Eagles will have two new rotational players as junior Megan Davies and senior Caton Day.
“We have some really strong hitters,” Gallagher said, “And our serving is pretty good too.”
Those players will be in a 6-2 formation which will involve two setters, Iles and Allison Koepkey, both of whom played significant time on the floor last season.
“You have to be a good leader and you have to lead the court,” Squiers said of the setter position. “You have to be able to make intense calls in critical situations and so they both do a good job of that. They bring a bubbly good personality to the team, and they stay upbeat. That’s what we need.”
Squiers also had high praise for junior Haylie Jennings, who will take over as the team’s libero.
“Haylie Jennings is amazing,” Squiers said. “She attends the most summer weight (sessions) and she will not stop until she gets to the ball. She is hustling to every ball and in every drill. She gives it 100 percent and she is very athletic. She’s very competitive.”
The junior said she looking forward to the opportunity to start in the back row.
“I know I have some big shoes to fill. (Addison Baumgardner) was really good,” Jennings said. “I am excited to work with some new players in the back row. I have played with these girls for a while, so I have great chemistry with them.”
With a solid mix of newcomers and returning starters, Squiers and her players are aiming to win their third consecutive conference title and make a deep postseason run.
“We want to go as far as we can and this year, we want to do it as a team,” Iles said. “Last year, we kind of split off as individuals as soon as districts hit. I think we are going to focus on the team energy this year.”
From left, senior setter Dry Iles, senior outside hitter Madelyn Bybee, sophomore outside hitter Kayla Gallagher and junior libero Haylie Jennings will be a part of a Grain Valley volleyball team that will look to win its third consecutive conference championship in 2022. Photo credit: Michael Smith