DECATUR -- Since the addition of volleyball to the Decatur athletics roster in 2015, the Lady Bulldog teams have grown by leaps and bounds into a formidable program.
This year, the interest in volleyball is expected to grow so much that the number of spots open will be regulated for the first time in the program's history, thanks in large part to Coach Cali Lankford who has been at the helm for the past four years.
Practice began for the 2022 volleyball season on June 6, with the junior high team taking the court at its home in the gym at Decatur Middle School. In all, 25 girls from seventh to ninth grades showed up for the first day of practice.
But Lankford, who is working on a master's degree in sports administration, was missing on the first day, bringing in a new assistant coach, athletic director Jacque Smith. She put the young junior high players through a series of simple drills designed to teach ball handling and teamwork. After the 90-minute practice was over, it was time for the varsity team to take the court.
Nine girls showed up at the middle school gym for their first 90-minute workout of the preseason.
By the end of week one of the preseason work session, the girls became more comfortable with their hits, serves and knowledge of the game.
But for some volleyball players like Lindy Lee, Anette Hernandez, Jackie Mendoza and Jazmine Herrera, the volleyball season never really ended. Throughout the school year, whenever there was a break in the eight-hour athletic period or any period, for that matter, the girls would gather in a circle and pass the volleyball around. Even junior high players like Daisy Fuentes, Leslie Hernandez and Shylee Morales got into the practice ring.
On the last day of the 2021-22 school year, junior high and varsity volleyball players got into one final match with some members of the soccer team. There was no clear winner but some soccer players like Poli Xiong, Robert Thang and Kenneth Barrios displayed a real aptitude for volleyball as the match highlighted their real talent. Unfortunately, Arkansas Activities Association has no sanctioned men's volleyball league.
Both volleyball teams will practice on Monday through Thursday for the next two weeks, then they will take a two-week break around the Independence Day holiday. The teams will be back in mid-July when they will travel to Mulberry for a week-long volleyball summer camp.
Then the Decatur junior high and varsity teams will make the move to their new home back in a newly-renovated Peterson Gym on Aug. 22 for a benefit match with the Gentry Lady Pioneers and another benefit match with Fayetteville New School on Aug. 23. The varsity and junior high A and B teams will participate in these season openers.
It is hoped that the Peterson Gym renovation project will be completed by mid-August. This will allow the volleyball team to move into its new home and get familiarized with the new surroundings before the matches on Aug. 22 and 23.
For more information on the upcoming volleyball schedule, go to the school's website at decatursd.com.