Last year the Union County (Lake Butler) volleyball team advanced to the Class 1A state playoffs after winning the Class 1A-District 7 title against Newberry in a 5-set thriller, which included a 15-11 win in the fifth set.
However, the Panthers got revenge against the Tigers (14-9) in the regional playoffs at Lake Butler with a 3-2 win by outscoring Union County, 15-13, in the decisive fifth set.
In 2022, Union County will look to defend its district title but under the direction of a new coach.
Tifani Knox begins her first year as a high school coach, although she has coached a club team at Gainesville Juniors for a few years.
“I am very excited to be the new head coach,” Knox said. “The team has a great amount of potential and I am looking forward to being a part of their journey this season.”
Knox has also been coaching a travel team out of Lake Butler called Prostyle Volleyball Academy for the last two club seasons, so she brings experience and familiarity.
“In addition to winning, continuing to improve and grow as a team throughout the season is my goal,” she said.
The first-year head coach does have a few leaders back from last year’s district championship team.
Jaycee Davis returns for her senior year after leading the team in kills (345), hitting percentage (.267), digs per set (4.6), and serving aces (49).
“Jaycee is a big part of our offense as she is a powerful force as an outside hitter,” Knox said. “She is also great on defense and a natural leader on the court.”
Junior Jurney Crim is another key returner as the libero. Crim led the Tigers with 359 digs last season.
“She is quick and has a natural ability to anticipate where the ball is going to be and read our opponents’ offense,” Knox explained.
Emily Wilson is also back after leading the team with 37 blocks as a junior.
“Emily is a returning senior who puts a big block for our defense,” Knox said. “She has a great attitude and is always pushing herself to get better.”
Jordan Hendricks will be stepping us as a setter this year. Knox said the rising junior “has a great attitude and keeps things positive on the court.”
The Tigers are hoping to get some production out of some of their younger players this year too.
“We will be counting on sophomore setter Kamryn Southerland to use her well-developed volleyball IQ to lead the offense this year,” Knox said. “Jailyn Simmons will also be a player to watch as a freshman right-side hitter.”
Union County will be competing in 1A-District 6 this season with Bell, Branford, Fort White, and Lafayette (Mayo). Plus, the Tigers will play a home-and-home with Dixie County (Cross City), which returns a solid nucleus from last year’s state semifinal team, along with Class 4A schools Suwannee (Live Oak), Keystone Heights, and Baker County (Glen St. Mary).
“We aren’t focusing on any specific match this year,” Knox noted. “We are taking each match one at a time. If we execute our offense and play to our potential, we will reach our goals. Each match is important, and we will push for continual improvement throughout the season.”
In order for this to be a good season for the Tigers there are a few things that will be required.
“The team members must trust each other and communicate to be successful,” Knox said. “Ensuring that they each understand their jobs and effectively execute them will be key. Being good players alone isn't enough, the team must gel together to get to the next level.”
Union County opens the season at home this Tuesday, Aug. 23, against rival Bradford (Starke). The first serve is at 6:30 p.m.