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HEBRON ESTATES - The great unknown is never easy, but the North Bullitt Lady Eagle volleyball program has seemingly all the tools to make a move from the Eighth Region to the Sixth Region a positive event.
Sure, everyone knows that at some point down the road that the green and gold, along with all the other schools in the Sixth Region, will at some point have to clear the huge hurdle that is the Mercy Jaguars, one of the state's top volleyball program which won the state title two seasons ago.
Other than that, coach Ashley Byerly and her team are loaded for bear to make the switch. The program returns all but one player from last year's squad that posted a 22-12 record and won a district title and advanced to the regional semi-finals.
North Bullitt does not play Mercy during the regular season. With a title in the new 23rd District and the Lady Eagles probably would face the Jaguars no earlier than the regional semi-finals. That is one reason that Byerley talking winning district titles more than two months away from the post-season.
"The goal is to place first so that we don't play them early," Byerley said recently before her team took the court to open the 2012 season at home against Fern Creek. "Mercy will be anyone's toughest competition. We do play Pleasure Ridge Park and Holy Cross.
"Obviously, Mercy is the team to beat," the coach added. "If the girls play hard, I think we can be there in the end."
Byerley said that she emailed Mercy looking for a regular season meeting, but did not get a response.
North Bullitt got the pre-season off with a tough trip to the Bluegrass State Games in Lexington. The team struggled on day one with competition from teams that had reached the state tournament last year. That relegated the green and gold to Flight Four. On Sunday, the Lady Eagles won that division.
"It was a good learning experience," Byerley noted. "If we can build from that experience then it will have been worth it to make the trip to Lexington."
With such an experienced team, the Lady Eagles are further along at this early point to the season.
"We're running plays more now which is big," Byerley explained. "We're including the middle. We're including everybody. I want to be more aggressive than last year."
North Bullitt had 50 players go through the try-outs and Byerley and her coaching staff kept 28 players. From that group, the coach will dress ten for the varsity matches including six seniors.
"Right now I'm thinking that I'll use eight or nine in most matches," the coach said. "We're working the newcomers in. I could use all ten."
At this point, Byerley has opted to go with one setter, although, the team has practiced with two in the game at one time. At this point, senior Kiersten June returns as the team's setter, but junior Kaitlyn Gividen can be used also.
The Lady Eagles have good size this season with a number of girls in the 5-9 to 5-11 range and they will work to get the ball down at the net as powerfully as possible. That is most evident in the pair of outside hitters the team has in seniors Brittany Farnsley and Caitlin Crowder.
Crowder missed the softball season in the spring because of surgery but is back at 100 percent now.
Both June and Gividen can also hit as can newcomer Courtney Donaldson, a junior.
The middle blocker will be either Erin Downs or Brooke Adams, a pair of seniors.
Playing the defensive specialist spot will be senior Kelsi Hill and she will get support from a pair of freshmen, Taylor Stayton or Chayse Vincent. Stayton will be the team's libero.
While North Bullitt should have no trouble getting some quick points, Byerley said the team has worked hard on keeping other teams from scoring easily.
"Defense is our focus," the coach said. "We are loaded with offensive hitters and talent. We have to be defense before offense. We want to make smart touches. That's the big mental focus now."
The new alignment for the Lady Eagles has them in the 23rd District along with Bullitt Central, Moore, Southern and Evangel. The district tournament will be hosted by Evangel in mid-October.
North Bullitt will play the other four teams in the district and the post-season tournament will be seeded based on just one game against each of the other teams. The Lady Eagles play Bullitt Central twice, but it is not clear which of the two meetings will be used for seeding purposes.
"We've discussed it," Byerley said of the new district. "We know who is in the district and the region. We prepared the schedule to be ready for those teams."
Byerley will be assisted by her husband, Kevin Byerley, who has switched to coaching the freshman program. New to the staff is assistant Jan Reece who will handle the junior-varsity.
North Bullitt learned in the season-opener last week against Fern Creek that there will be plenty of tough competition in the Sixth Region this season. Playing in the first of the new best of five format that will be used in most matches this season, North Bullitt needed all five games to win by a 25-20, 24-26, 13-25, 25-13, 19-17 score. The fifth game is played to 15 points, but teams have to win by two points.
The Lady Eagles have three matches at home this week before playing Bullitt Central next Monday, Aug. 20, at home.