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Lady Panthers confident in depth for new season

by | Aug 5, 2023 | Sports

Princeton fell just one game short of a playoff spot on the volleyball court but is optimistic heading into a new year.

The team faced Greenville in a winner-take-all play-in game for the final playoff berth but ultimately fell just short after an 18-win season. For head coach Rachel Croley, the team is prepared to make the playoffs this season, with several intriguing players returning that made an impact last season.

“I’m very excited for this season,” Croley said. “We have a lot more options this year and can run a lot of different lineups. I think we’ll be a lot more creative in our lineups and have a lot of players that can play multiple positions for us.”

That versatility will be key for Princeton after graduating seniors Rachel Sadler and Alyssa Dixon. Sadler was the team’s top attacking player last season, while Dixon led the team in assists. Replacing them, Croley is hopeful that the group can come together and work as a team this season to move forward.

“We just want good volleyball players on the floor for us this year,” Croley said. “We feel like there’s a lot of really good players on our roster, and when you can do a lot of different things you become more valuable.”

Returning players who had positive production last season include Leila Hooper, Breonna Smith and Taylor Crawford on the front row, along with Madisyn Robertson, Abby Sadler and Maebry Harris in the back. The team also has several other young players in the mix at key positions for next season, with competition heating up before the start of the season.

Those six will be integral to the team’s success in 2023.

“We knew those seniors would be a big loss, but this team has a good go-to work and team-first mentality,” Croley said. “We have a bunch of players with open minds about helping the team at the moment and focusing on winning. Overall, it’s a pretty competitive group and they’re all really talented.”

Hooper is the returning leader in kills for the Lady Panthers, likely to feature in the outside hitting role this year after getting 205 kills last season,

Smith and Crawford were a strong duo in front of the net at the middle spots last year, with each player having 47 blocks.

In the back row, Robertson was second on the team in assists last season, and she’ll likely fit in as the team’s top setter this year. Harris was a key player on defense for the team, along with Abby Sadler who led the team in digs and aces last year. With that group of players all in the mix, Princeton believes it has what it takes to make a run at the postseason.

“Our motto this year is ‘All In,’” Croley said. “We want to make the playoffs every year, but I think this group is process oriented and we’re all into building this process and working every day to make that goal possible.”

Princeton’s season begins on the road on Tuesday, Aug. 8 against Denton Ryan. They’ll have several road games in non-district play before their first home game on Aug. 22 against Forney. As the team gears up for district play beginning Sep. 9, they want to work on building that process in non-district play.

“We want to win all of our games, but we really want to win district games,” Croley said. “We’re working through our lineups and will likely use many different lineup combinations to see how things look before the district. We want to play teams like the teams in our district and find the right lineups to win.”

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