Coming off a season that saw Gadsden State post a 29-9 record, finish as the state runner-up finish and gain a berth in the NJCAA Tournament, the 2014 Lady Cardinals are re-loaded and itching for the opportunity to dethrone Wallace State-Hanceville as the top squad of Alabama Community College Conference volleyball.
"Head to head, we beat Wallace more than they beat us last year, and they jumped on us [in the championship match] and didn't let up," said GSCC head coach Angie Sanders. "It was one of the toughest losses I've had in my career, because we had a good team. We just didn't finish."
Sanders has put together a freshman class that she feels is capable of not only starting right away but also excelling at the junior college level.
It's a good thing that Sanders' new recruits are up for the challenge, because Gadsden State graduated its leaders in nearly every statistical category from 2013.
"I told my freshmen girls that they're going to have to come in ready to play," said Sanders, whose high school and college career record [275-103] is 691-256. "They need to have that mentality, because there's no such thing as a rebuilding year [in junior college]. Every year I have 14 starters from their high school team, so they know what's expected of them, which is to come in here and fight for a starting position."
With several players that can step in at multiple spots, Sanders feels that the Lady Cardinals are deep at every position.
"We have three setters and six hitters who can play either outside or middle," said Sanders.
Sanders has five returning sophomores in outside hitters Madison Clayton, Katie Mitchell and Amanda Young and middle hitters Audrey Hargitt and Hannah Liverett.
Clayton and Mitchell graduated from Southside High, where Sanders is a teacher.
"Madison plays hard and is a good leader on the court. She is stepping up at practice to lead this team. Katie is one of my heaviest hitters, and I can really see a determination from her to get time on the floor. Audrey can play multiple positions and is really my best jumper. Hannah also has a heavy hand and a great jumper who blocks and hits well."
2013 Westbrook Christian graduate Courtney Bolton was a member of the Gadsden State softball team last year and will play outside hitter for Sanders.
Incoming freshmen are setter Riley Carter and hitter Abbie Mills from Madison County; hitter Emma Easley from Lynn; setter Kaycee Willingham from Oneonta; hitter Anna Sanders from Boaz; defensive specialist Chassidy Farmer from Springville; setter Diamond Dozier from Clay-Chalkville; and hitter J'Nae Fraser from Chandler, Ariz.
"We always push to win, but [assistant coach] Connie [Clark] and I try to instill things in our players they can take with them for the rest of their lives," said Sanders. "Those are the things that mean the most to us." Katie Ball [former Cardinal under Sanders] is a new addition to the Cardinal staff this year and will be a big asset.
Four players from last year's squad signed with four-year schools. Devonna Taylor, Megan Butler and Anna Butler signed with Alabama A&M in Huntsville, while Colin Nichols will play at UAB.
Besides Wallace, Gadsden State's ACCC competition includes Faulkner State, Snead State, Jeff Davis, Lawson State, Southern Union and Wallace-Selma.
The Lady Cardinals open the season on Aug. 26 against Lawson State, and then travel to Pembrooke, NC, on Aug. 29-20 for the North Carolina Bash. The ACCC Tournament will be held at Wallace-Hanceville.