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Different set of nets installed at A.L. Hutson Memorial Center

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Looks like the still brand-new A.L. Hutson Memorial Center on the campus of Highland High School will soon have a shiny new sport to go along with its sparkling inside decor.


After years of discussions, the sport is officially scheduled to begin next fall at Highland High School.

But players and fans who have eagerly awaited the arrival of volleyball at Highland won't have to just sit back until the 2012 school year to get their feet wet.

According to Highland Head Coach Lou Lynn Stirling, things are already starting to heat up on the volleyball front for the Lady Rebels.

"We had a two-day camp that was open to any of the girls at Highland that wanted to come out and see what they thought," she said. "It was great. We had 45 girls between grades eight through 11 that

came out."

Volleyball practice began in earnest at Highland on Aug. 15, the same day classes started in the school district.

Stirling will get a chance to help the Lady Rebs ease into the sport of volleyball, with this upcoming year being used as a prep year, with no real competition scheduled for Highland.

"That's a good thing (a pep year) -- thank goodness we're not actually competing," she said. "That will give us time to see who's really interested in coming out and playing volleyball."

But based on the results of the two-day camp that took place in early August, so far, so good.

"Everybody that was out there (at the camp) was just thrilled and excited," said Stirling. "Honestly, it's a different group of kids than the ones that might normally play basketball or softball. And to me, that opens a whole new avenue for these other girls that don't play those sports. So they're loving it so far."

Plans call for a junior high and senior high team to take the court at Highland, with practices currently held after school.

"We'll have a junior high and senior high team. And I'm hoping to get a seventh-grade team going next year. The younger the better," Stirling said. "Since our practices are after school this year, all the girls, junior and senior high, will practice together We'll go from about 3:30-5 p.m., Monday through Thursday, right now."

During volleyball season, that sport will get priority at the A.L. Hutson Memorial Center and, after the season has ended, the volleyball team will practice elsewhere, with the basketball squads getting first dibs at the new gym.

Stirling plans to hold volleyball practice year-round at Highland.

While a lot of the players on Highland's team have played volleyball on a recreational basis, this fall they'll actually get the opportunity to see the sport played at the high school level.

"We're going to travel and watch other teams play some matches this year," said Stirling. "Some of the girls have never even seen a regulation volleyball game, so they'll learn a lot just by paying attention and watching."

When the Lady Rebs do land in a conference and play their first official volleyball match, they'll do so in one of the roughest, toughest conferences around.

The 4A-Northeast Conference features Brookland, Cave City, Newport, Pocahontas, Southside, Trumann, Valley View and Westside.

The past eight Class 4A state champions have came from that conference, with Westside winning a pair of titles and Valley View capturing the other six, including last year's, in that time span.

"We're entering into one of the best conferences in Arkansas for volleyball," said Stirling. "People, along with the players, need to keep that in mind and not get discouraged. It's going to take time, number one, to be competitive in that conference."

As would be expected in starting a new program from scratch, the learning curve may be a bit steep at times, with many of Highland's players being exposed to volleyball for the very first time.

"Obviously, one of the biggest challenges is that nobody really knows anything. And if they do know something, it's probably wrong," Stirling said. "And that's not to say they learned wrong in their PE classes or anything like that -- that's not what I mean. There's a select group of girls that have played volleyball down at the river and in PE class -- but, the nets they're usually playing on are not regulation and they're playing without updated rules and things like that.

"But on the positive side, if you're at ground-zero, the only place you can go is up."

Still, with all the challenges that lie ahead, the bottom line is, volleyball has finally arrived at Highland High School.

"I've been pushing for it since I've been here, and this is my fifth year here," said Stirling. "And I think the interest has been here. I kept talking it up and girls started getting excited ... and here we are."

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