As competition heats up on the volleyball court, area coaches look for innovative ways to give their teams an extra edge.
At Lakeside, first-year volleyball coach Keri Smith and the Lady Panthers have found a unique way to prepare for taller and bigger competition this year.
"We play the boys," senior Carol Skenes said at a practice last week. "They're coming later today. They're mostly athletes who help us every once in a while with a scrimmage."
The group of boys began their volleyball-playing days on the sand volleyball court outside of the high school and at Riverside Elementary. Senior Ryan Mikec, a baseball player who hits the volleyball court in the offseason, said the idea got popular in a hurry.
"We love playing it. We play everyday," he said. "We'll call some of our Greenbrier friends and get a tournament going anytime we can get it."
"We want to get a boy's volleyball team started."
While plans for Lakeside to add a boys squad aren't exactly in the works, the boys did find a way to play against live competition in the form of the Lakeside girl's volleyball team. Word eventually spread of what the boys were doing, and Smith heard that one of her students, junior Taylor Dove, was a part of that group.
"Taylor's in her class, and he was talking about it one day," Mikec said. "(Smith) said we could come scrimmage them one day if we wanted."
The boys came to practice this past Tuesday. While no one kept score at the scrimmage, the play on one side of the net looked a little better than the other.
"They're more organized because we don't have a coach," Mikec said. "If we had a coach we'd be more disciplined and probably just as good."
Many of the girls said the extra competition in practice is beneficial. Both of Lakeside's main rivals, Greenbrier and Evans, boast rosters this year with at least one girl standing at 6 feet, 2 inches tall. The Lady Panthers weren't able to duplicate the height in practice until the boys started playing.
"It helps a lot," Skenes said. "Their hits and serves are really hard. They're definitely less organized than us, though."
Skenes said the intense practices have helped prepare the Lady Panthers for a tough 2006 season. Lakeside will return starters Skenes and Amy Burress, but lost captain Kim Newman.
Still, Burress said preseason practices and a volleyball jamboree at Greenbrier last weekend has prepared the team for the regular season.
"We found a rotation that felt pretty good (at the jamboree)," Burress said. "We're on the way to where we want to be. It's going to be better than last year."
The Lady Panthers get little warm up before hitting their first true test. Lakeside will travel to Greenbrier on Wednesday for the team's season opener.
When the two rivals meet, Mikec said he and his fellow volleyball players will most likely be in attendance.
"We might be stopping by," he said. "We don't really know all the rules, but we know most of them."
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