State champion volleyball players, coaches meet the media in Daphne

Ten local teams preview their upcoming seasons as official practices open across the state

Sports Editor
Posted 8/7/23

DAPHNE — From state champions to AHSAA All-Stars to Division I commits, the Volleyball Media Day hosted at Daphne High School on Monday featured some of the heavy hitters from around Baldwin …

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State champion volleyball players, coaches meet the media in Daphne

Ten local teams preview their upcoming seasons as official practices open across the state


DAPHNE — From state champions to AHSAA All-Stars to Division I commits, the Volleyball Media Day hosted at Daphne High School on Monday featured some of the heavy hitters from around Baldwin and Mobile Counties.

Coaches and players discussed their offseason training that will lead them into the regular season which also started on Monday with the first official practices.

Of the 10 teams on hand, the defending champions from the top two classifications, Bayside Academy (6A) and McGill-Toolen (7A), were present and brought half of the four athletes with pledges to Division I colleges: Blakeley Robbins (Montevallo) and Emma Moore (Auburn), respectively.

In addition, Fairhope’s Abby Nelson (South Alabama) and Spanish Fort’s Alexis Belarmino (New Orleans) represented their squads on Monday having announced their commitments on May 15 and Aug. 4, respectively.

Admirals seeking 22nd straight title

Headlining the event was the Baldwin County leadoff batter, Bayside Academy, which is searching for an extension on its state championship streak that already owns national records.

Another Blue Map trophy this fall would mark the Admirals’ 22nd in a row and head coach Ann Schilling tried her hand at dissecting what makes each of the 21 previous title-winning squads identical.

“I think each year is different and I think each year you have to find different ways to win,” Schilling said. “Each team looks a lot different; this year’s team is going to look different than last year’s and two years ago and three years ago, but I think we have always had that one thing and they truly love each other. You talk about culture, and I think our culture has turned into love.”

Trojans continue to trend positively

While only three starters return for the host Trojans, they have all logged meaningful sets for Daphne and have helped the program trend in the right direction entering the third year under head coach Casey Craig.

To complement the likes of setter Lucy McCoy and outside hitters Ella Lomax and AG Chasson, Craig looked for athletic underclassmen like Charlotte Mekkers and Addison Hollis to step into impactful roles to help the Trojans make some noise in Class 7A Area 2.

Kalmar taking over Pirates’ program

Fairhope’s newest volleyball coach, Daniel Kalmar, had some familiarity with the area before taking a job on the Eastern Shore where he’s coached at the club level.

However, as a first-year head coach, Kalmar acknowledged his inexperience at the position but said one of the first items on his to-do list after being hired was to establish his philosophy and get everyone on the same page to progress together.

He takes over a deep roster with 14 upperclassmen led in part by the seniors on hand: libero Abby Nelson, outside hitter Peyton Frazer and right side hitter Bailey Wiggins.

Cardinals flying with freedom

The St. Michael Catholic Cardinals boasted a similarly strong senior class with six athletes ready to take over as leaders in the program head coached by Ashlyn Roberts who promotes freedom for her players to learn from their mistakes and not hide from them.

The senior athletes on hand, middle block Ava Bowie, libero Bryanna Marks-Craig and outside hitter Katie-Ruth Rudd, all confirmed this defensive unit is the strongest they’ve seen in their time at St. Michael and that has driven their desire to win through the roof.

Bingert, Thrift bring energy for the Warriors

When asked what it’s like to go up against her teammate in practice, Elberta’s Morgan Thrift paused for a moment before sharing a laugh with Haley Bingert.

Thrift went on to say the pair are exceptionally competitive with each other and head coach Madison Wichterman confirmed that the pair of Warriors are the main energy providers for the team.

Wichterman also said the coaches’ message for the team has been to see improvement from the day prior to gear up for the postseason.

Mako seniors constructing their legacies

While Karen Atkins may be entering the season as Orange Beach’s newest head volleyball coach, she brought plenty of familiarity with the Mako athletes from her time at Gulf Shores.

Helping to lead the charge are seniors Ensley Keel, setter, and Amelia Edgeworth, outside hitter, who are ready to step up and create Orange Beach’s largest senior class so far.

Atkins and her staff have preached to the team about finishing their Orange Beach careers strong and leaving a legacy for teams to follow down the road.

DCA: The Toros roadmap for a return trip to the state finals

For the Spanish Fort Toros to win a 10th area championship in as many years under head coach Gretchen Boykin and make a repeat run at the state finals, Boykin said the team will look to rely on its acronym of DCA.

“Disciplined in detail. With all the details, not just on the court but off the court, we try to be disciplined in all the little details of life. ‘C’ is committed to the culture,” Boykin said. “We feel like we’ve developed a really good culture at Spanish Fort and a big part of that culture is to play for things bigger than yourself, so we remind each other of that all the time. And then ‘A’ is for accountability and really encouraging the girls to hold each other accountable.”

A few of the athletes that have experienced that motto already joined Boykin on Monday including seniors Reece Varden, middle block, Alexis Belarmino, setter, and Mary Madison Lyles, pin hitter.

Saints’ senior leaders ready to action together

The seven seniors on the roster for the 2023 St. Paul’s Episcopal Saints have logged so much playing time together that you’d think they’re sisters.

Following a state semifinal run last season, head coach Lisa Marston is ready to watch this familial connection take over the Saints’ leadership while transitioning to a new offensive scheme.

Some of those key senior leaders she’ll look to joined her in representing St. Paul’s on Monday, including setter Ashley Park, libero Blake Ferguson and outside hitters Sydney Conrad and Clarissa Dupree.

Warriors’ bond ready for centerstage

A similarly close-knit group of seniors is ready to take the court for Cottage Hill Christian Academy as head coach Jennifer Newton enters her 21st year at the helm.

Six members of the Warriors’ roster will be playing their final high school season after many of them had played together since fourth grade.

Newton’s connection to the group is strengthened by two of her daughters, Emily and Ashlyn, who have stepped into key roles for Cottage Hill. The pair were joined by Lilly Gibson and Sarah Swearingen in sharing the commitment to the game while maintaining the fun parts.

Yellow Jackets leadership off to strong start

McGill-Toolen head coach Kate Wood revealed during her media day interview that this year’s leadership group, which included the seniors on hand in Laura Boykin, Emma Moore and Chelsea Saffin, has had the strongest start to a season that she’s seen in her nine previous years with the team.

That ascent will look to be only the beginning of another repeat after the Yellow Jackets won back-to-back state titles in 2017 and 2018.

Wood knew, however, that McGill-Toolen’s work would be cut out for itself in Class 7A but hoped the team would rely on their mantras of relentlessness and gratefulness.

Follow Gulf Coast Media Sports on social media for more highlights from Volleyball Media Day and pick up the Baldwin County Fall Sports Preview, set to publish Aug. 25, for more details on local teams entering the season.