BY CHUCK VANDENBERG
FORT MADISON – The Fort Madison High School girls volleyball team will be looking to fill some big holes left by departing seniors from last year’s squad.
The Bloodhounds need to find replacements for 2017 2nd team all-stater Amber Dilsaver at the net and Leigh Johnson who led the Southeast Conference and was ninth in the state last year in assists with 791. Johnson and Kamryn Bailey, who also graduated in 2017 were both in the top five in sets with just over 80 each. Bailey also led the conference is serves and serve efficiency last year.
But Head Coach Kent Bailey said this year’s numbers are very good and although the Hounds will be a smaller group than the 25-8 team that won the Southeast Conference last year, there will be no let down in play style.
“We’re gonna continue to be very aggressive at the net,” Bailey said. “We’ll be a little shorter, but we’ve got some girls that can really jump.”
Returning to anchor play at the net will be 5′-11″ junior Jillian Wiseman, who as a sophomore came on strong in the latter half of the season on the opposite side of the rotation from Dilsaver. Wiseman finished with a lofty 25.6% kill efficiency recording 107 kills good enough for 8th in the conference.
Kaeli Hutson will also help offensively at the net. The 5′-8″ senior finished fifth in the conference with 164 kills and 18.2% kill efficiency.
“We just need to come together as a unit and play that way,” Hutson said. “We’ll have good senior leadership and we’re talking about playing as a team.”
Josie Pumphrey will be the top returning server for the Bloodhounds. Pumphrey is coming off a 2017 campaign where she was second in the conference in successful serves at 352. Bailey was tops with 356. Pumphrey had 61 aces and a 90.5% serve success rate.
Pumphrey also anchored the backline for Fort Madison with 480 digs, just 23 behind Fairfield’s Danae Drish.
Pumphrey said the Bloodhounds should be able to compete for the conference title again but Fairfield will be one of the teams to beat in the five team conference.
The Trojans are losing just two seniors off a 24-9 squad that finished just a game behind Fort Madison and was eliminated by the Bloodhounds in post-season play
“Fairfield will be very good this year,” Hutson said. “They may present some problems for us, but we’re definitely going to be aggressive this year and focus on playing as a unit.
Bailey said he’s looking for daughter Lauren Bailey to step in and fill Johnson’s setup role. Bailey is just a sophomore and saw minimal varsity action last year.
“We’re looking for her to step into that role,” Bailey said. “So far this year, she’s shown some potential to be able to fill that position for us.”
Pumphrey said this year’s squad will need players to step in and fill roles and it will be more of a team concept.
“We definitely need someone to step up and be hitters and someone to step into that setting position. We’re gonna have to have contributions from a lot of girls this year,” she said.
“Attitude wise our seniors really want to make changes and make it overall a fun and positive environment,” Pumphrey said.
Other returning key players for the Hounds include Jassmine Bass, Olivia Williams, Braxtyn McGhghy. Bass had 47 kills on 128 attacks in 2017 and had 17 solo blocks which was third on the team behind Dilsaver and Wiseman.
Williams had 81 sets and 158 digs last year working predominantly from the back row.
FMHS was eliminated last year in a 3-set loss at Cedar Rapids Xavier in substate action.
The girls kick off the 2018 season in high gear next Saturday with at trip to Bondurant for a 14-team tournament that includes state 4A powerhouses Waverly-Shell Rock and Pella, and Class 5A powerhouses Dubuque Hempstead and Des Moines Roosevelt.