Rep quality, team chemistry among keys for growing Fort Payne program

Fort Payne’s Sophie Beason (21) attempts a kill during the Class 6A, Area 15 championship match against Scottsboro at Fort Payne High School last season.

From workouts to skill camps, everything about the Fort Payne volleyball team’s offseason training has been about achieving progress.

As Justin Kisor enters Year 2 as the team’s head coach, he likes the direction the Wildcats’ approach has been trending.

“The way we approach practice and the quality of reps we get in has certainly had a huge effect,” Kisor said. “I also like where our team chemistry is.”

This summer, Fort Payne and Ider came together and received instruction from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga’s volleyball coaches and players at a team camp at Fort Payne High School. The skill camp was the only one Fort Payne attended as a team this summer, although individual players made trips to other camps. Kisor said the team plans to attend a few ref clinics in August, however.

In early June, the Wildcats hosted approximately 60 kids for a youth skills camp.

Fort Payne opens volleyball season with a tri-match against fellow DeKalb County competitors Crossville and Sylvania on Aug. 17 in Crossville. The Wildcats will play in front of their home crowd for the first time Sept. 2 with a quad-match against Southside-Gadsden, Plainview and Sand Rock.

This season the Wildcats will lean on the experience and guidance of their five seniors: Abby Boatwright (defensive 

specialist/setter), Madisyn Hill (defender/setter), Sophie Beason (right-side hitter/middle hitter), Shea Lindsey (right-side hitter) and Kaydence Porch (middle hitter).

“Progress on the court is always what we strive for, but the leadership has been a huge factor to what they bring,” Kisor said of his senior players. “I really have liked how they are willing to do whatever to help the team. I’m looking for all of them to be major contributors.”

In addition to its seniors, Fort Payne also has four returning underclassmen who made an impact in 2020 and are primed to bolster the depth this season.

Juniors Lily Jackson and Cooper Garrett are returning outside hitters, bringing an element of being fierce competitors, Kisor said. Natalie Hotalen returns to setter after taking over that role late last season, and Anna Banks is back as a defensive specialist; both girls never seem to get rattled, they produce great serves and are two of the best teammates anyone could want, Kisor said.

“First of all, I love their work ethic and how they always strive to be better,” Kisor said of the underclassmen. “Secondly, they all have varsity experience and have played in big games for us.” 

In the COVID-restricted 2020 season, Fort Payne finished 8-15 overall and 0-3 in Class 6A, Area 15 matches. The Wildcats appeared in the regional round of the state postseason and finished with a 3-0 loss to Homewood in the 6A North Regional at Von Braun Center in Huntsville.

The Wildcats’ 2021 schedule includes a visit to rival Scottsboro on Sept. 7 and hosting Arab on Sept. 14, tournaments at Brooks, Alexandria, Guntersville and Geraldine, and a home tournament featuring 15 visiting teams Sept. 11.

Kisor said he’s looking to add one more team for the home tournament in September. DeKalb County programs Geraldine, Plainview, Fyffe, Sylvania and Ider are all scheduled to participate, while out-of-county teams on the schedule include Hayden, Lincoln, Southside, Donoho, Scottsboro, Pell City, Springville, Pisgah and Chattooga (Ga.).

Kisor said a good coaching friend of his from Alexandria will bring a team to play in a tri-match that will include Scottsboro on Sept. 21.

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