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New GC class brings balance, versatility

By Dustin Kent

Fresh off of the program’s first-ever trip to the national tournament, Gulf Coast volleyball coach Scott Allen is replenishing his roster with a recruiting class heavy on local talent and positional versatility.

The Lady Commodores announced an eight-player class that includes seven players from the Panhandle, with Valdosta attacker Kemari Smith the only out-of-state player in the group.

That adds to a roster that was already loaded with Panhandle players.

“Well, we’re fortunate because I got to coach at the high school level around here,” said Allen, who previously coached at Choctawhatchee High School as well as the Emerald Coast Volleyball travel program. “The travel ball scene in the area and organizations in Northwest Florida and Georgia and Mississippi and lower Alabama, the quality is getting better, so if we can get the top players from the area then we’re happy with that.

“If we’re getting the top players in the area we feel like we can compete with the teams in our conference. And knowing how strong our conference is, if we can compete well in our conference then we’ll have a chance to compete nationally.

“Almost all of our girls are local this year. We’re hoping that if we continue to do well with our program then even more players will stay local instead of feeling like they need to go somewhere else to have a competitive experience in college.”

Kaylan Gunning and Reece Rhodes are the two Bay County players in the class and they’ll join their former Arnold teammate Anna Merrill Goolsby next season.

A 5-foot-3 setter, Gunning tallied 334 assists and 31 aces in her senior season with the Marlins, while the 5-8 Rhodes, an outside hitter/defensive specialist, had 142 kills and 219 digs in 2019. Both players were named All County.

Blountstown’s Sarah Shuler comes in as a 5-9 outside hitter/defensive specialist who tallied 211 kills, 12 blocks, 228 digs, and 54 aces as a senior for the Tigers and will join former Tiger teammate Emma Richards next season.

Sneads’ Hadley Barfield, a 5-9 hitter, won a state championship in her senior season while posting 271 kills, 19 blocks, 243 digs, and 33 aces for the Lady Pirates.

Gulf Coast also signed 6-2 Fort Walton Beach middle hitter Sarah Duckett, 5-6 Niceville setter Peyton Chambers, and 5-7 Florida High defensive specialist Ashtyn Tilton.

The common thread throughout the class, according to Allen, is the ability to help a team from multiple positions on the court.

“What we try to focus on is players with really good overall skill-sets who can pass and hit and will allow us to move them around a little bit,” he said. “We’re pretty happy if players can come in and play two or maybe three different positions. With a setter it’s a little bit different; they’re a little more like the quarterback, so that’s more position specific.

“With most of the other girls you’re looking at players who can do multiple things. A handful of those girls coming in are very versatile and can pass and attack the ball and play pretty good defense. That’s kind of what we’re looking for.”

With only one starter gone from last year’s group that won the Sun-Lakes Conference before going 2-2 at the national tournament, competition for playing time should be pretty fierce, though that’s how Allen said he likes it.

“Almost every single girl coming in will be able to go in and compete for a starting spot,” he said. “There’s only one spot available if you’re looking at the starting lineup we had at nationals, but we don’t look at it that way. Our girls know that going into every single practice we have, every single position is open for competition.

“I think that gives us the best opportunity to stay sharp, so the girls don’t go in thinking they’re third or fourth on the depth chart so they’ve got no reason to show up. They know that if they show up and work hard that they can get themselves in the starting lineup. That makes our practices really competitive.”


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