By Dana Harding (For OzarksSportsZone.com)
It’s safe to say Tevi Gurley and Reese Schaff left their mark on the El Dorado Springs volleyball program.
The pair – each a three-time all-state honoree – helped the Bulldogs reach the 28-win mark for four-straight seasons, capping an impressive 34-3-2 senior campaign with a district championship.
Both players will continue their athletic careers at Drury University this season, with Gurley playing volleyball and Schaff set to join the basketball team.
“These two will be greatly missed,” head coach Ashley Rogers said. “They were great leaders and were two of the most athletic players I have ever coached. They were very competitive and their work ethic was hard to beat.”
While replacing talented graduates is never an easy task, the Bulldogs have a host of players ready to step into featured roles.
Lone senior Macie Mays will lead the Eldo attack this season.
Mays, a middle hitter and three-year varsity starter, finished 2021 with 245 kills, 75 blocks, 41 aces, 238 digs and 32 assists. She received both all-district and all-conference honors.
“Macie brings a quiet leadership,” Rogers said. “Very humble player, but competes with the best. She’s very quick, reads the ball well and led us in multiple stats last year. She’s a very strong defensive player.”
Junior middle hitter Gracie Mead also returns after recording 102 kills, 54 blocks, 24 digs and 15 assists.
“Gracie puts up a big block and is quick at the net,” Rogers said. “She’s got a strong work ethic and strives to be her best.”
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Sophomore setter Neely Schaaf, an all-district and all-conference selection, posted 75 kills, 22 assists, 319 digs and 25 aces.
“Neely’s very fast and plays tough defense,” Rogers said. “She’ll be moving to the setting position this year, and she’s smart with the ball.”
Sophomore setter Alexis Collins also received all-district and all-conference honors as a freshman, recording 131 kills, 28 assists, 305 digs and 48 aces.
“Alexis understands the game and can read the opponent’s floor well,” Rogers said. “She has great ball placement.”
Junior defensive specialist Tenlie Steward rounds out the returning starters for the Bulldogs. The all-conference selection finished the season with 174 digs, 17 assists and 28 aces.
“Tenlie’s very fast,” Rogers said. “She’s willing to throw her body out after a ball no matter what.”
Sophomore outside hitter Avery Floyd, sophomore middle blocker/outside hitter Abi Schmitt, sophomore defensive specialist Madi Fast, sophomore defensive specialist Nikki Waggoner, junior right side Grace Kinnett and sophomore outside hitter Carly Thompson also return to the Eldo lineup.
Rogers also expects a pair of freshmen to compete for varsity minutes in libero McKinli Mays and middle hitter/outside hitter Kalen Post.
Entering her ninth season at the Eldo Hellm, Rogers believes her team is more than capable of continuing to build on the program’s recent success.
“I have high expectations for these girls,” Rogers said. “Although we graduated two amazing players, these girls have a ton of experience and the desire to be great. Their work ethic is very high and they don’t settle for less than their best.”
Rogers believes her team enjoys a significant advantage due to the fact it’s full of multi-sport athletes used to seeing top-flight competition on a consistent basis in various sports.
“A lot of these girls play travel ball, but not just volleyball … softball and basketball, too,” Rogers said. “Multi-sport athletes are a huge asset. They are stronger and have competed at different levels, which only makes them tougher – athletically and mentally. I think this will benefit us so much.”
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The Bulldogs’ attack will run through a pair of new faces in Collins and Neely Schaaf. While the graduated seniors accounted for 90 percent of the assists last season, Rogers is confident her younger players are more than ready to step into prominent roles for the team’s 6-2 rotation.
“Alexis and Neely will see for us,” Rogers said. “They have played club ball and school ball in the setter’s position and only moved to a different position last year. They bring experience and knowledge of the game that will help all of our hitters succeed.”
While Eldo is both talented and experienced heading into the fall campaign, Rogers believes the biggest question will be finding players to step up and help make surrounding teammates play better on a consistent basis.
“We graduated two four-year starting, all-state setters,” Rogers said. “I’m looking for some strong leadership and someone to take charge of this team. We will need to learn to work together to be at our best.”
Following an Aug. 23 jamboree at Willard, the Bulldogs open the regular season Aug. 30 with a home tri-match against Clinton and Adrian.