New stars on the volleyball courts

(Brad Davis/The Register-Herald) Woodrow Wilson's Elysia Salon rips a spike past Riverside defender Abby Holderby during Shirley Brown Tournament action Saturday at Woodrow Wilson High School.

One of the many beauties of high school sports is the landscape is ever changing. Young athletes graduate and move on to college, leaving space for new athletes to shine.

Some years the landscape can take a drastic change. Such is the case this year on the volleyball courts around our area.

Woodrow Wilson lost two all-state players, one being, in my opinion, the best player in the state last year in Bryce Knapp. Greenbrier East also lost two all-state players, including dynamic hitter Karlei Shaver.

Independence took the biggest hit, losing six starters and nine seniors overall, including a couple of all-state selections. Shady Spring lost two great players, including all-stater Brooklyn Cook, who is playing as a freshman for WVU Tech.

Toss in all-state selections Anna Hamilton (Nicholas County) and Gracie Mann (James Monroe), and that is a lot of big shoes to fill this year.

Saturday I spent the majority of my day inside the Woodrow Wilson gymnasium covering the annual Shirley Brown Invitational and I have to say, I am 110 percent excited for volleyball this season.

Not only did I get to watch some excellent volleyball, I was also fortunate enough to see a good portion of our area teams in action, including Woodrow Wilson, Shady Spring, Greenbrier East and Independence.

I like to refer to the Shirley Brown Invitational as the Daytona 500 of the volleyball season. That is because it is one of the biggest tournaments of the year with many of the top teams coming to Beckley to open the season.

Class AAA powers George Washington, Spring Valley and Parkersburg were all in the field and are legitimate state title contenders this year. Spring Valley is the reigning Class AAA champion.

Although Shady Spring lost in the championship match to George Washington, the Lady Tigers were incredibly impressive, especially this early in the year. Shady wiped out Cabell Midland and Parkersburg South in pool play before beating South Charleston and Woodrow Wilson in the eight-team single elimination championship.

Shady’s receiving was spot-on Saturday and its transitions were really smooth. Olivia Barnett and Kelsie Dangerfield were strong at the net, along with Chloe Thompson and Rylee Wiseman. Senior Bradlea Hayhurst was all over the floor doing a little bit of everything.

As if that wasn’t enough to hang your hat on, Shady has some really good young freshmen, including Meg Williams. I have to say, she was impressive Saturday. The young freshman is athletic, can really jump and is an all-around player.

I expected the Lady Tigers to be good this year and they proved they will be a contender with Saturday’s performance against the big teams from around the state.

I was also impressed with Woodrow Wilson and Greenbrier East. Both teams have some really talented players and, come time for postseason play, the two longtime rivals will be right in the thick of things.

The Lady Flying Eagles had some “crazy times,” as coach Bre Rhodes said, but overall they looked good Saturday.

Junior middle Savanna McMillion was explosive and will keep getting better, and Woodrow was solid along the back line. My biggest takeaway for Woodrow was the play of outside hitter Elysia Salon.

The sophomore tennis phenom was a killer on the outside for Woodrow. She and McMillion have the ability to change the momentum of a set very quickly, giving Woodrow a solid 1-2 punch along with senior Emily Martin and sophomore Olivia Ziolkowski, who played her first high school matches Saturday.

East also has some strong players at the net. Haley McClure, Taylor Dunbar and Amya Damon are basketball stars who have added a big boost to the Lady Spartans’ front line, along with four-year starter Maggie Thompson.

This is a team to keep an eye on for sure. Damon is playing for the first time, while McClure and Dunbar are shaking off some rust from not playing last year. However, watching East Saturday, I will tell you, in a month or so, Matt Sauvage’s crew is going to be hard to handle.

Independence is another team that will be scary when the postseason rolls around. The Lady Patriots are still finding their way a bit right now, but they have some solid talent on the floor.

Destiny Blankenship is an all-state-type player, and keep an eye on sophomore Kyra Davis. She is going to be a really good volleyball player.

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