“It’s definitely a good group of kids that love the game and are willing to put time in throughout the year,” Smith said.
The Panthers are currently evenly comprised of three seniors, three juniors and three sophomores.
Seniors Kadi Cooley, Becky Dent and Corianne McKearney will act as captains, with Dent designated as the team’s “speaking captain,” the player on the court who can discuss plays or calls with the referee.
Despite being equal parts of three classes, the players are already familiar with each other and with Smith through their time together on Smith’s club team.
“We’ve put a lot of time in together and so that helps us to get to know each other and find ways that we can support each other,” Smith said.
The team has also put a lot of time together the past two weeks as it prepared for the season.
Smith said she’s been trying to get her players as many reps as possible during practices. She has put an extra emphasis on passing.
“That’s where it all starts,” Smith said.
Pinpoint passing will be key if the Panthers are to run a successful attack.
“We like to keep an upbeat offense but it kind of depends on how your passes are,” Smith said.
The Panthers will run a 5-1 attack, with lone setter Cooley playing the entire rotation.
This attack will allow – and require – the middle blockers to play a dynamic offensive role.
“We utilize our middles with slides, we don’t like to just keep her in the middle,” Smith said. “Which is good, you don’t want to be easy to read.”
The Panthers will try to stifle the opponent’s attack with a solid block and strong play from sophomore libero Jenni Ebersberger. An outside hitter last year, Ebersberger’s consistent play and strong passing eased her transition to defensive specialist.
This weekend’s opening tournament, the Douglas Invitational, will be a chance for PHS to test its merit against the east conference’s Douglas, last year’s state runner-up.
“It’s early on but I really feel there’s a lot of potential in these kids,” Smith said. “If they believe in themselves and each other they can have some good success.”
The Panthers start the season with three consecutive weekend tournaments. After Douglas they will travel to Billings for the Montana-Wyoming Classic, and then to Rawlins the following weekend for the Rawlins Invitational.
Smith said the experience of playing together in the tournaments will benefit the team before it begins conference play.
The Panthers will play Cody, Lander and Jackson twice, once at home and once on the road, to determine the seeding for the western conference tournament.
Cody, last year’s state champions, will again prove to be a formidable opponent.
“I know they lost some pretty key players but I’m sure they’ve found some players to fit those roles,” Smith said.