Booth makes leap to WBC
It can't be the easiest thing in the world to introduce a new sport to an established school.
But luckily, Izard County High School has taken to the sport of volleyball like a fish takes to water, which had to make Tony Booth's life much easier these past two years.
In just their second year of volleyball at the senior-high level, the Lady Cougars finished in fifth place in the 3A-North Conference, and in second place in their division in league play, ending the season with an overall mark of 10-7.
That makes the Lady Cougars quick learners, indeed.
And a good chunk of credit for that success has to go to Booth, the Lady Cougars' head coach, along with his daughter, Taylor.
Since relocating to Brockwell from Cooter, Mo., where Tony started the junior high volleyball program, the Booths have been heavily invested in getting the sport off the ground and running at Izard County High School.
Now, that investment has paid off.
Taylor, a two-time All-State standout for the Izard County volleyball squad, inked a letter of intent March 14 to play at Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge next fall, making her the first Lady Cougar to go on to play the sport at the next level.
And according to her dad, it's a goal she's had for a few years now.
"It's always -- for at least four or five years -- been one of her goals to become a college athlete and play volleyball somewhere," he said. "So we're really blessed that she's getting the opportunity to play at Williams Baptist. It's a quality school with good coaching. And she'll get a good education, as well."
Williams Baptist, in addition to having a solid athletic department, also had a few other things that helped lead Taylor to pick the college in Walnut Ridge.
"It's a small school and a Christian college, which is what I wanted," she said. "And I just really loved the environment, especially the way people talk to you there."
From her outside hitter position, she racked up 201 kills, an average of 11.8 per game, 294 digs (17.3 average) and 76 aces (4.9) for Izard County during her senior season.
Taylor was selected to play in the North Central Arkansas All-Star Volleyball game at Valley Springs High School this past November and was also named to the All-Tournament teams at the Harrisburg Hornet Volleyball Classic and the Cave City Cavewomen Classic.
And next fall, she gets to show her stuff in the American Midwest Conference for coach Eric Newell's Lady Eagles.
"Taylor did a real good job of advertsing herself. She made it known early on -- from her late sophomore to early in her junior year -- that she was interested in Williams Baptist College," Newell said. "And she came and worked out for us as a junior and then again as a senior. The fact that she fell in love with the school and the way she worked out for us really made sense for us to offer her."
Anyone who has witnessed the Lady Cougars on the volleyball court can attest that, even though Taylor Booth is just 5-8, her jumping ability for a player her size is almost unmatched.
"She's got some explosive jumping ability. She's a bit undersized, but she does jumps well. I know one thing, I counted her out because of how short she was, but she kept being relentless and this last time (at the workout), she was jumping right up there with the six-foot middle hitter we had," said Newell. "I think she'll be fighting for that spot on the outside, but she's such a skilled volleyball player that she may be someone who can play all the way around."
In order to help prep for her freshman campaign at WBC, Taylor is ramping up her practice routine this spring.
"Currently, I practice kind of at a college level for my club, so I think I'll be ready for it," she said.
If the first two seasons of volleyball at Izard County are any indication, the school should be able to look forward to contiuned success and growth on the hardwood in the years to come.
All because the correct blueprint was put in place from the outset.
"It takes commitment and a lot of heart. You have to be able to be patient," said Taylor. "But everybody learned pretty quick. When the program started, they were eighth-graders and they became starters for our senior-high team the next year. So they did really good."
Coach Booth concurs.
"Anytime you start a program it's rough and you have your ups and downs and stuff. But I was fortunate to have a group of girls that all worked hard," he said. "And, working through a team, it really allowed Taylor's athletisism to shine. That's what really brought her game about -- just the opportunity itself. We really had an excellent group of freshmen this year. They really jumped in after just one season of junior high. They competed really well. We came really close to finishing in second place overall in our conference this year. Some of those upper teams, we were close to knocking them off, if the ball just would have bounced our way a couple of times. It was a very good season."