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Pearl River volleyball excited to begin 2nd season

POPLARVILLE, Miss. — The spring semester is underway at Pearl River Community College and with that so is the “re-located” season for the PRCC volleyball team. In just their second year of existence the Wildcats are hoping to take significant steps forward as a program. Head coach Haley Chatham is confident that her team is ready to take the next step in the ’21 season. 

“I feel way better going into this year compared to last year,” Chatham said. “There was just so much newness that we had to learn with procedures and travel and that was a lot of change. I had to spend a lot of my time learning that and now that all that is behind me I’m able to focus more on just volleyball and the fun parts of it. I’ve been able to enjoy it more so far this year.”

The Wildcats underwent an extensive and long offseason due to the COVID-19 pandemic that forced the season to be moved from the fall to the spring. Chatham is very optimistic that the longer revised offseason has helped her team develop a chemistry that they normally wouldn’t be able to form. “I think every one of our girls handled the shutdown well,” Chatham said. “We all kept in touch and checked on each other and they all got to go home and enjoy time with their families that they would have never gotten before. So I know they enjoyed that after a long season. They all handled it really well. It was beneficial because with the new kids we got to work with them longer.” 

THE 2021 SCHEDULE

The Wildcats will begin their season this Saturday when they take on Northwest Community College and Coastal Alabama-East in Shivers Gymnasium. The Wildcats will play Northwest first a 1 p.m. and then take on Coastal Alabama at 5 p.m. After hosting Itawamba on Jan. 28, PRCC travels to Pensacola State College on Jan. 29 to play St. John’s River State College and Lake-Sumter State College.

The Wildcats visit Coastal Alabama South on Feb. 2 and then host Bevill State on Feb. 6.

PRCC then visits William Carey to play ICC and the host Crusaders on Feb. 8 before turning around to host Northwest on Feb. 11 and Pensacola State College on Feb. 16.

The Wildcats visit Lawson State on Feb. 19 and then visit ICC to play Snead State and Spartanburg Methodist on Feb. 20. PRCC caps its four-match road trip Feb. 23 at Gadsden State.

March is a road-heavy schedule to close out the season with only three matches inside Shivers Gymnasium.

PRCC opens the month against Coastal Alabama-South at home on March 3 and then visits Northwest on March 5 and PSC on March 9. Following a home tilt against Judson College on March 12, PRCC goes back on the road for five contests.

PRCC plays Wallace State-Hanceville and host Bevill State on March 16, visits Coastal Alabama-East to play the host and PSC on March 20 and then treks to Itawamba on March 23. PRCC will close out its 2020-21 schedule at home March 26 against Lawson State.

FAMILIAR FACES 

The Wildcats will return four players from their inaugural nine-win campaign in Leah Draine (Mobile; Ala.; Mattie T. Blount), Harleigh Lafontaine (Kiln; Hancock), Logan Parker (Clinton) and Kyleigh Richardson (Fruitdale; Ala.; Fruitdale). Draine returns for the Wildcats after playing in 25 matches last season with 95 kills and 150 digs. “Leah has transitioned into a six rotation outside hitter which is someone we’re going to depend on a lot this season,” Chatham said.

Lafontaine was a vocal leader for the Wildcats program even as freshmen. She played in 25 matches and had 111 digs. “Harleigh is our little ball of energy on the court,” Chatham said.  “She’s a great setter and she’s really grown since this last season and she’s making even smarter and more confident decisions. We’re thankful to have her.” 

“I’ve tried to embrace a leadership role because I’m one of the few sophomores coming back,” LaFontaine said. “The extra time we had for this preseason I think really helped us. We got to hang out inside and outside the court and I think that helped us bond more.”

Parker played in every game her freshmen year and had 99 digs. “Logan is a defensive specialist and she’s going to continue to do that this season,” Chatham said. “She’s also upped her game and we’re going to depend on her back there to give us some good passes.” Richardson played in four matches as a freshmen. “Kyleigh has turned herself into a really good blocker so we’ll be able to use her on the right side,” Chatham said. “She reads the ball and she moves well.”

NEWCOMERS 

This volleyball season will see the debut of several new faces for the Wildcats program. The Wildcats are bringing in six freshmen and also debuting two transfers. The freshmen class consists of Leighton Willoughby (Brandon), Tori Havens (Lucedale; George County), Payton McKerchie (Vancleave), Avery Durdin (Olive Branch; Lewisburg), Hannah Burks (Vancleave) and Chloe Paske (Ocean Springs; St. Martin). 

Willoughby comes to The River after an outstanding prep career at Brandon High School where she was named an All-Conference player. “She’s actually faster and a bigger blocker than I thought she was when I recruited her so she’s been a pleasant surprise,” Chatham said. “She’s going to be a huge help.” Havens arrived to PRCC after a stellar high school career in both volleyball and softball. “Tori is just a pure athlete”, Chatham said. “She’s worked really hard in the preseason to fine tune her volleyball skills. She’s a serious player and a serious athlete and she has made huge improvements.” 

Durdin arrived to PRCC after playing her high school ball at Lewisburg High School where she was named to the North All-Star team and was a 2019 MHSSA State runner up. “Avery Beth came here as this lights out right side hitter who has really high volleyball IQ,” Chatham said. “We’ve had to move her around due to some roster changes and she has stepped up to be our second setter and she’s been doing great and we are going to be leaning on her a whole lot.” 

Burks, who is Chatham’s daughter, comes to PRCC after playing at Vancleave High School where she won four state championships and was named to the All-Star team. 

“I’m very excited to have Hannah here,” Chatham said. “I coached her whenever she was on the junior varsity team at Vancleave and then I left her and that was sad. So I’m thrilled she was able to graduate early and come on and play. I’m excited to see how she fits and where she fits here.” 

Paske played her high school ball at St. Martin High School and won the team MVP award her senior year. “Chloe has also stepped up with the roster changes we’ve had,” Chatham said. “She has developed so much from the preseason to now that she almost looks like a different kid. She’s a great server and playing with a lot of confidence and I’m proud to see her in that position. She’s a great kid and a great teammate.” 

Transferring in to PRCC are sophomores Amy Wright (Palm Bay, Fla.; Melbourne Central Catholic) and Diamond Jones (Gonzales, La.; East Ascension). 

Wright transferred in after playing her freshmen season at College of Central Florida where she played in 25 matches. “She’s brought a wealth of experience coming in from a great program,” Chatham said. “She’s a libero and they hardly get any glory but they have a super important job on the team and she does too.” 

Jones comes to PRCC after playing her freshmen season at Wallace State-Hanceville Community College. During the season, Jones played in 41 matches and registered 389 kills with 154 digs on her way to a first team All-ACCC selection. 

“Diamond has turned out to be everything we thought she would be and more, ” Chatham said. “She’s a six rotation middle for us and you don’t see that often but she’s such a great hitter, she’s a good blocker in the middle, she’s really quick and she’s a great server and passer. We’re relying on her a lot and she knows that and is up to the task.”

“We are ready to get a kickstart on things and get the season started,” Jones said. “Things have been going smoothly and we are really just trying to keep the chemistry we have going before we play Saturday.”  

Unfortunately McKerchie was injured in the preseason and will not be able to participate this season. Instead, the former VHS star will help Chatham with in game coaching during the season. “Payton had to have a couple surgeries and is rehabbing from those right now so she’s going to be helping us out this year on the sideline taking notes and finding ways to help us get better,” Chatham said. 

ATTENDANCE POLICY

PRCC recently announced its attendance policies for the upcoming basketball and volleyball seasons. Because of the limitations, general public and visiting fans will not be allowed to attend games inside PRCC’s Marvin R. White Coliseum and Shivers Gymnasium. In addition to players, coaches and members of PRCC’s pep band, String of Pearls and cheer squad, only gameday personnel and individuals on the teams’ pass list will be allowed to enter the Coliseum. Volleyball will use the same policy inside Shivers Gymnasium, with the exception of band and spirit squads. Mississippi Association of Community Colleges Conference and Mississippi High School Activities Association passes will not be accepted.

Pearl River will also enforce its mask and social distancing policies.

“The No. 1 priority in today’s time remains the same — an individual’s health and safety. We have adjusted to the new routine in sports like we have in every other aspect of life and will follow the governor’s mandate of inside activity capacity of 10 percent,” Pearl River Athletics Director and Women’s Basketball Coach Scotty Fletcher said. “We regret that our student body and faithful fans will not be able to see us play in person, however the ability for us to livestream the events protects everyone from a potential spread and damaging impact to those who would travel to watch us play.”

Attendance policies for softball, baseball, rodeo and soccer will be announced at a later date. 

HOW TO TUNE IN 

To help fans stay connected to the Wildcats this semester, Pearl River once again plans to stream all of its home events at PRCCMedia.com. Most events will be broadcast at PRCCMedia.com/Gold but in some instances where multiple teams are at home, PRCC will also have a feed on its auxiliary channel at PRCCMedia.com/Maroon. Fans who have Roku or Amazon Fire devices can also watch the Wildcats on their televisions by downloading the “Pearl River CC” channel from their app store.