ALPINE – Last season, the senior-laden Winterboro Lady Bulldogs earned a trip to the Elite 8 volleyball tournament in Birmingham. The Lady Bulldogs enter the 2014 season with a practically new team as only three players are returning from last season’s team.  Third year head coach Sheroderick Smith looks forward to the challenge of building this young team.

“The biggest difference is working with a team that was already talented, versus working with a team that you have to build talent,” Smith said. “We only have a few girls with volleyball skills, and everybody has things that they can do well. But overall, we need more skill and practice. We had a volleyball camp this summer, which was great. The difference is really tapping into the areas of improving and focusing on those, also believing in my coaching skills and my players’ skills. That is going to be the real big challenge right there. We are trying to look for different ways to motivate kids. We are going to have some live volleyball playing in the locker room. “

With the Alabama High School Athletic Association realignment, the Lady Bulldogs lost their biggest area rival in Fayetteville, which moved up to Class 2A. The Bulldogs will have TC Central and ASD in their area again, with the addition of Victory Christian and Wadley.  Smith said he is elated that he won’t have to go through Fayetteville to win the area.

“Not having them in our area, I am extremely happy,” he said, adding that Wadley and Victory Christian should offer as much of a challenge.

“It could be one blessing and a curse. The Fayetteville games were some of the best volleyball games that we have played, especially when it came to the area. They had our number in the regular season, but we were able to come out on top when it mattered. We still play them in the regular season and they are young just like us. It will be a baby rivalry brewing possible for two more years.”

Smith will heavily depend on his three returners – Aniya Burroughs, Kendrieka McKenzie and Alyssa Merritt – this season to lead the eight inexperienced players.

“Aniya Burroughs is a 10th grader, and she is recovering extremely well from ACL surgery,” Smith said. “She has been playing pretty well for us. She wasn’t able to play in the summer games because of basketball camps. She will be a great addition to the front line as far as blocking goes. Blocking is going to be one of our advantages this year. We actually have two tall girls at the net, so I look forward to these two girls getting a lot of blocks this year.

“We have Kendrieka McKenzie, who is a sophomore returner. She has played on the team for two years, and one of the awards that she has gotten is the spirit award. She does have innate passion for volleyball. When you see her, she is extremely short, but she can really jump. She can block as well; she is one of our attackers. She is one of the future leaders of the volleyball program, and even possibly the school. “

He said Alyssa Merritt “is actually one of the most skilled volleyball players that have come through in 10 years. She is our best server, and she is a libero. She actually plays all the positions except for at the nets, so she can do 80 percent of the job as far as volleyball goes.”

McKenzie said she learned a lot of from last season’s experience, and she believes by the end of the season the Lady Bulldogs could be in the position to make a run in the postseason.

“Last years’ experience was different, because we went all the away to the Elite 8,” McKenzie said. “We were real excited, and this year, I hope that we do the same.  We have a good group of girls, and we are working hard.  I have a good feeling about this year.”

The Lady Bulldogs opens the season with a tri-match with Fayetteville and ASD on Sept. 4.

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