Brooke Bennett

Brooke Bennett led North Oldham in digs last season as a sophomore.

North Oldham entered last year’s Eighth Region tournament as the seven-time defending champions.

The Lady Mustangs appeared destined to continue the streak after sweeping every region foe they faced in the regular season.

Then the team’s on-floor leader, senior setter Lindsey Adams, went down with an ankle injury early in the Lady Mustangs’ semifinal match against Simon Kenton.

Three sets later, North Oldham’s season was over, as was the streak.

“To go out on an injury to one of your senior starters is a really hard thing to accept,” NOHS coach Kayla Gamsky said. “We know that the region and district championships are never a given. We always work really hard for that.”

This year’s team is determined to show it’s still the class of the region.

“It’s really got us going,” senior Holly Pitchford said. “We really think we would’ve gone to state and done well (if not for the injury). This year we’re focusing and driving to win that championship. We’re going to go hard and – as much as we can – beat down on other teams to show that last year was a fluke.”

There’s plenty of production to replace, especially on the front line. The Lady Mustangs graduated four starters in Adams (7.9 assists, 1.59 kills, 2.45 digs and .68 blocks per set), Erika Beisner (2.9 kills, .89 blocks), Kelsey Hildebrand (.98 kills, .58 blocks) and Cameron Chavous (1.06 kills). 

Gamsky feels the team retooled its vacated positions. Seniors Pitchford, Caroline Rankin, Katelyn Vize and Ellie Wilson will step into larger roles up front, alongside a newcomer in freshman Reagan Baxter. 

“We have five seniors returning, and I fully expect all of those seniors to be in starting positions,” Gamsky said. “Then freshman Reagan Baxter will hopefully step up and fill a starting role as well. We’re upperclassmen-heavy, but we have a couple freshmen who have come in eager to learn, eager to be coaches and could ultimately work into pivotal roles.”

Junior Lucy Rankin will step into the setter position, and the Lady Mustangs also return the majority of its back line production in juniors Brooke Bennett (4.84 digs per set) and Emery Stephens (2.32 digs) and senior Elizabeth Fisher (2.04 digs).

“I have no doubt that Lucy will step into that role and take charge. She’s a fierce competitor and is just truly in love with the game,” Gamsky said. “And thankfully, we have two main defensive specialists returning, as well as our libero.”

North Oldham isn’t as physically overwhelming as it has been in past seasons, but this year’s group is as fundamentally sound as any. 

“We’ve been perfecting the small things to fine tune as much as we can,” Pitchford said. “We’re going to be a really strong team fundamentally. We might now be the tallest or hardest hitting, but we’re going to have that control that can carry us through a lot of games.”

An often overlooked intangible over the years has been chemistry. Last year’s team admitted to having chemistry issues at stages during the season, but the team doesn’t expect that to be the case this fall. 

“Last year, we’d get into little fights on the floor. People would get mad at themselves, mad at other people,” Caroline Rankin said. “I don’t think that’s going to be a problem this year. If anything, we’ll lift each other up.” 

North Oldham is shooting not only to reclaim its perch atop the Eighth Region, but also to make some noise in the state tournament. The Lady Mustangs most recently won a state match in 2019, when they reached the semifinals before dropping a five-set affair to Mercy.

“We have the potential to make a run,” Gamsky said. “We have a lot of girls whose ceilings are very high, so it’s just about getting them there at the right time. We want them peaking in October, November rather than August, September.”

North Oldham will open the season with a stiff test at Tates Creek on Aug. 16.