Newberry volleyball seeks return to state title game

Last year the Newberry volleyball team made a run all the way to the Class 1A state championship game, falling to seven-time state champion Sneads in the title game.

The Lady Panthers finished 23-4 in Hank Rone’s first season as head coach. But gone from last year’s team are a pair of players who signed with Santa Fe College in Gainesville – Nicole Everson and Paige Dinges.

Everson finished third on the team last season with 183 kills. She also finished second with 73 blocks. Meanwhile, Dinges finished second on the team with 219 kills.

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Grace Oelrich also graduated and is now rowing at Rollins College. She led the team in kills with 265.

Plus, Sarah Miller left Newberry as the all-time assist leader with 1,367 assists.

Those were just some of the athletes who played a key role in 2020.

Last night, we got a chance to learn more about the 2021 Newberry volleyball team as the Lady Panthers joined “The Prep Zone” sports show at SonicDrive-In.

Newberry volleyball coach Hank Rone

Rone said he has been pleased with the way the Panthers (5-2) have played so far this year despite a lot of new starters and position changes. They’re playing a very difficult schedule that includes three teams outside of their classification.

“I think we are settling down,” Rone said. “We kind of got into our offense that we want to run now. We implemented it last weekend with Liberty County and Dixie County.”

Rone said the Panthers are running two setters.

Senior Kirsten Thomas has been moved to libero and has played quite well with an average of 25-plus digs in her last two outings.

“Faith (Wilson) has been a force on the net for us blocking and hitting,” Rone said. “I just see us getting better and better each week and that’s what you hope for as you get into October.”

Wilson, a Gainesville High School transfer, had a big night at the net this past Monday against previously unbeaten 3A Keystone Heights–a 3-0 Newberry victory–with seven kills and eight blocks.

Senior Mykenzie Tiller, who is an outside hitter playing middle, had 14 service points, four aces, and five kills. Thomas added six aces to her 25-dig night.

In a 3-1 win at Class 6A Columbia (Lake City) on Tuesday night, Rone’s daughter, Hannah, helped lead the way. The junior topped the team with 11 kills, 10 service points, and eight digs.

Senior Raven Thomas had 15 digs and 10 service points, while senior Abby Pace, who was the libero last year, had 24 assists, nine kills, and five aces.

Even though there are some new faces, there is some familiarity for Rone with three of his players. He coached Pace, Thomas, and Hannah on the first rec volleyball team when they were 8 years old, and he also coached them in club ball and at Newberry High School.

“It’s kind of neat,” Rone said.

Newberry will travel to Williston 6 p.m. tonight. The Red Devils are no longer in the Panthers’ district, but it will be a good test still early in the season.

“Williston is going to be a challenge,” Rone said. “They have an outside hitter, Karley Jerrels, that can rip the ball down. Their middle places the ball where they want to place it and they also serve the ball really, really well. It’s going to be a good challenge. We’ll find out where we’re at.”

Rone said that Union County (Lake Butler), which is currently undefeated, will be the biggest challenge in 1A-District 7, which also includes Bradford (Starke) and Hilliard.

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