The high school volleyball season may not begin until the end of August, but the Knoxville Panthers have been hard at work on their skills since June.
Head Coach Mollie Keitges held open gyms for players through June and the first two weeks of July. Members of her varsity team went to a skills camp at Central College.
Central hosts a developmental camp as well as a scrimmage tournament. Knoxville has typically done well in the developmental camp, but Keitges wanted to match her team up against perennial state competitors and 5A teams. She liked what she saw.
“I’m really excited where we’re at,” Keitges said. “We are farther along at this point in August than we ever have, but there is still a lot of work to do.”
The Panthers will have to replace standouts like Molly Devin, Kelsey Ryan and Tierney Heffron. Keitges will miss all of the players who graduated, but she will especially miss Ryan’s energy and leadership on the court.
She likes what she sees from two freshmen, Ashley Finarty and Mel Sullivan. Both are sisters to returning players, with Ashley’s sister Reilly and Mel’s sister Amy. Charlie Heffron is another Panther legacy. Keitges believes Charlie and Ashley will compete for the middle hitter position, but both appear as though they will be good anywhere on the court.
With the new faces are three returning, first-team all conference stars Reilly Finarty, Marley McKay and Katie Keitges. Marley is the team’s experienced setter, and has grown as a player. Coach Keitges says Marley will be a big star for the Panthers as he play has only become more consistent.
Katie Keitges is a standout athlete regardless of the sport and was a true leader for the volleyball Panthers. Coach Keitges is expecting more good things from her, with another year of maturity.
Tara Uitermarkt is another player Coach Keitges believes fans should look out for. She believes Uitermarkt will have a breakout season, as Uitermarkt showed improved talent during the scrimmage tournament.
“It really shows how hard she has been working,” Coach Keitges said. “She will be another big option for Marley.” This will make the Panthers harder to defend and play against.
Knoxville once again goes into the season with a target on their backs, as the Panthers are the two-time defending South Central Conference champions. Both years, the Panthers went undefeated within the conference. Coach Keitges and her team are looking for a three-peat.
Albia and Davis County are expected to give the Panthers their toughest conference games. Lucky for Knoxville, they host these two teams early in the season at home, where the Panther Pit can always be depended upon to support the team.
Volleyball practice will officially begin Monday, Aug. 12. The Panthers’ tentative schedule is below.