Eight consecutive winning seasons have Paintsville struggling to remember what a losing year on the volleyball court is like.
Under new leadership, Boyd County has strong reasons to believe it will reach that point one day, too.
During Megan Taylor’s tenure as a Lady Tiger, Paintsville had consistently vaulted well past 20 wins and knocked on the door to a region title. Thanks, in part, to the Marshall commit’s remarkable play at the net, the Lady Tigers finally achieved their first 15th Region championship.
Boyd County can’t claim region- title-contender status quite yet, but it certainly distanced itself from a totally defeated 0-28 2016 campaign. With first-year coach Katee Neltner at the helm, the Lady Lions went 17-15 and made their first 16th Region Tournament appearance since 2005.
Taylor and Neltner are The Daily Independent’s All-Area Player and Coach of the Year, respectively. The newspaper’s sports staff selected recipients for the top individual honors. Coaches’ votes determined the rest of the team.
Taylor, a 6-foot junior, helped hoist Paintsville to a 33-5 season.
“It was definitely our effort that stood out the most,” Taylor said. “We always put in a lot of extra hours after practice.”
Taylor tallied 676 kills — that’s an average of 17.8 per match — to go with 102 blocks and 104 aces. She was the 15th Region Tournament Most Valuable Player, a KVCA second-team All-State honoree and a member of the All “A” Classic state tournament team.
During the high school off-season, she plays club volleyball for the River Cities Thunder. Formerly a two-sport athlete (softball), she focuses on volleyball year-round now.
Taylor said a positive attitude is important and infectious on the court.
“I’m always trying to pick up teammates,” Taylor said.
Taylor wouldn’t be the hitter she is, she said, without fellow All-Area selection Abbey Meade. The setter racked up a whopping 1,102 assists as a senior.
“Me and Abbey have played for a long time together,” Taylor said. “She’s a great setter and a great person all around.”
Rowan County and Paintsville both made first-round exits at the state tournament in Louisville, but they also shared another commonality. Each program accomplished its first region championship.
Four seniors — Starla Wilson, Kandyse Redmon, Alexis Ferguson and Samantha Webb — represent Rowan County on the All-Area squad.
“It’s kind of like, it’s surreal,” said veteran coach Steve Walters. “It happened, we went to the state tournament, but did it really happen? It went by so fast! Now everybody’s like, OK, the younger girls are like, when are we getting in the gym?”
The Valkyries survived a grueling region semifinal match with East Carter at Lewis County Middle School to advance to the finals against Russell.
Walters recalled feeling uneasy following the battle with the Lady Raiders, which Rowan County won, 3-2.
“We got on the bus and it was like, does it make me a bad coach that I feel really bad for the East Carter girls? It really was a shame that somebody lost,” Walters said. “The girls were like, no, no, that’s probably a good thing we all feel that way.”
East Carter produced a trio of All-Area players. Junior Caitie Reed recorded 255 kills, 244 assists and 94 blocks. Seniors Kaitlyn Adkins and Sarah Howard had 180 and 148 kills, respectively. Howard contributed 242 assists and a team-best 97 aces. Adkins collected 74 aces.
Ashland matched the Lady Raiders with three All-Area members: senior Sarah McLeod, junior Haley Preston and junior Raegan Stevens. The Volleycats went 19-19, falling victim to a tightrope act by Russell in the semifinals.
The Lady Devils leaned largely on All-Area selections Kayla Preston and Grace Satterwhite to escape Ashland.
Fairview and Raceland produced a pair of honorees apiece.
Piper Figley and Sydney Ekers set school marks at Fairview — Figley with kills and blocks; and Ekers with assists. As seniors, Figley gathered up 416 kills and 158 rejections while Ekers doled out 607 assists. She also tallied 70 aces.
Vanderhoof and Whaley kept Raceland afloat after the Lady Rams lost the bulk of the pieces responsible for their four-year region reign. Haylee Winters (Boyd County), Brooke Duncan (West Carter), Kayla McCleese (Fleming County) and Katie Wells (Johnson Central) picked up selections as well. McCleese claimed 62 aces and 418 digs.
Winters helped bolster Neltner’s case for Coach of the Year by supplying the Lady Lions with 160 kills and 49 aces. Boyd County loses no one to graduation.
2017 All-Area Volleyball Selections
Kaitlyn Adkins (East Carter) Brooke Duncan (West Carter)
Sydney Ekers (Fairview) Alexis Ferguson (Rowan Co.) Piper Figley (Fairview) Sarah Howard (East Carter)
Kayla McCleese (Fleming Co.) Sarah McLeod (Ashland) Abbey Meade (Paintsville) Haley Preston (Ashland) Kayla Preston (Russell) Kandyse Redmon (Rowan Co.) Caitie Reed (East Carter)
Grace Satterwhite (Russell) Raegan Stevens (Ashland) Megan Taylor (Paintsville) Michelle Vanderhoof (Raceland) Samantha Webb (Rowan Co.) Katie Wells (J. Central) Madi Whaley (Raceland) Starla Wilson (Rowan Co.) Haylee Winters (Boyd Co.) PLAYER OF THE YEAR
Megan Taylor (Paintsville)
COACH OF THE YEAR
Katee Neltner (Boyd County)
ASHLAND — Delaney Mollett. BATH COUNTY — Nakita Cooper, Skyler Copher. BOYD COUNTY — Lexie Queen, Sydney Winters. EAST CARTER — Rachel James, Lindsay Holmes. FAIRVIEW — Alexis Claar. FLEMING COUNTY — Erin Maher, Analiese Mitchell. GREENUP COUNTY — Sara Purcell. JOHNSON CENTRAL — Hannah Newsome. LEWIS COUNTY — Madelyn Spencer. PAINTSVILLE — Anna James. RACELAND — Adriana Flocker. ROWAN COUNTY — Morgan Adams, Jenna Porter. RUSSELL — MacKenzie Cole, Hannah Saunders. WEST CARTER — Madison Adkins.