Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

September 3, 2013

High hopes in Princeton

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

PRINCETON — There’s an expectancy floating around the volleyball program at Princeton Senior High this fall.

Head coach Leslie Graham is expecting her first child sometime this month.

Beginning her eighth year in charge of the Tigers, Graham sat down for an interview after Tuesday’s practice with a gift of a stuffed bear beside her, and a quilt that had been crocheted by assistant coach Tressie Hamm.

“The past three weeks have been — interesting is the word,” Graham said. “We have a lot of good players coming back.” She added the Tigers have lost four starters from 2012, “but we’ve got some good replacement players.”

They will get their first regular-season test this evening, when Princeton hosts a couple of high-quality Class AA schools, Independence and county neighbor PikeView, in a tri-match at the PSHS gym.

“Both of those teams are actually very competitive with us,” Graham said. “Independence is always competitive, they always seem to make it up state ... and PikeView, you’ve got that cross-county type of a rival. They’re always tough to play and hard to beat.”

“I’m not looking past those two games at all. Neither have my girls.”

She said about her team, “They seem to be energetic and excited for the season to start. I know I am. ... We’re looking forward to it.”

In addition to Hamm, Graham welcomed back former player Heather (Webb) Rotenberry as an assistant coach this season.

Senior McKenzi Barnett plays outside hitter for the Tigers. “I expect her to contribute more, even, than last year,” Graham said.

Fellow senior Taylor Graham returns on the right side, “I expect more from her,” the coach said. Due to illness last fall, “I didn’t have her for the end of the season last year, and she was coming along.”

Alex Cable will be a defensive specialist on the back row.

Kaleigh Barker, a sophomore, returns in the middle and is expected to lead the team in kills. Another sophomore, Adrianna Mitchem, takes over primary setter duties. “She’s going to step right in, and she’ll be good at the setter position,” the coach said.

Taylor Hamm, a junior, returns at libero. Graham said, “She’s athletic and quick in the back row. I expect her to be digging balls, left and right.”

Graham said other expected contributors are defensive specialist Kelsey Browning, Kaitlyn Burks in the middle, and Erica Davis on the outside.

“I’ve got some experience, but I also have some youth,” Graham said. “It’s good for building ... .”

After today’s tri-match, Princeton plays seven opponents on the road before their next home date on Sept. 17.

“It’ll be a good start. I hope it’s a good start,” Graham said. “They’re not weak teams. They’re good double-A schools. We don’t look past those schools at all.”

She said many of her players worked out at Princeton Health and Fitness Center during the off-season “two or three times a week.” There were scrimmages during the three-week window of team-and-coach interaction in the summer.

She said, “I think about 15 or 16 of them, and that includes incoming freshmen,” have been involved with the Clash travel AAU team headquartered in Athens.

“They’ve been hard at work this summer,” she said. “You’ve got to play all year ... . It’s only going to make them better. If you’re just sitting on the couch, you’re not getting better.”

“I can tell a difference (in) my teams now, versus the teams that played (about) six years ago, that didn’t have access to the off-season, that didn’t show improvement as much.”

— Contact Tom Bone at