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Strong VolleyDog trio to lead young team

Natalie Birdsall is not only a standout outside hitter for the Bearden VolleyDogs, she’s been a volleyball teacher for years. With a sentimental twist.

“I taught my brother how to play volleyball,” said Birdsall, a BHS senior, about younger brother, Scott, now a freshman at a Florida high school. “He’s getting right up there with me. He’s helped me out, I’ve helped him out.

“He’s always wanted to come to my practices, wanted to help out, wanted to pass when we’re waiting for another team to get finished. We always have fun,” she added.

“I’m kinda his inspiration.”

Prior to her eighth-grade school year, Birdsall’s family moved to Knoxville from Austin, Texas.

Birdsall, senior setter Brittney Basham and senior middle hitter Briana Rittenhouse comprise almost all the varsity experience for head coach Jennifer Allen’s 2007 team.

A three-year starter, Birdsall said she “would like to become a lot better hitter, get a lot of kills. ... I’ve worked on my timing a lot.”

The three seniors form “a good nucleus, with good attitudes,” Allen said. “Brittney probably has the best court sense around. Natalie hits the ball well, makes very, very few errors. Briana can hit a lot of different types of shots.”

Rittenhouse, at 5-foot-10, is a three-year starter, as is Basham. With Birdsall, they are the only BHS starters returning from ’06.

Basham defined the team goal: “The past couple of years we haven’t made it past district [tournament], we want to make it past district.”

Rittenhouse said her goal is to be “a better teammate, ’cause I’ve always been like the quiet one.”

As for concerns, Allen said, “Nobody else has much varsity experience, so to speak, at all,” noting the exception of junior Riley Armstrong, “who played quite a bit” as a sophomore outside hitter last year.

Freshman Tara Robertson will start at middle hitter, the first freshman to ever start in the 22-years Allen has coached at BHS (15 years) and the former Rule High School. “She’s got good size, about five-[foot]-nine. She may play some back-row, too.

“With the lack of middle school volleyball in Knox County, rarely do you have a kid that’s ready to come into high school. I don’t think I’ve had a [freshman] that’s going to make a difference like she is. She’s a good hitter, she’s a good blocker, got good court sense.”

Sophomores Sloane Gouffon and Torie Dillon “are probably going to split the other outside position,” Allen said. “Torie will probably play on the back row, she’s our second setter.

Paige Graham “is in the mix,” Allen said, adding that Armstrong is a possibility at outside hitter.

Junior Joy McCuen, a back-row specialist and transfer from Atlanta, Ga., “is a really good athlete, very coachable, passes the ball well. Quick feet,” Allen said.

“Also passing [back row] is Melissa White [junior].”

Juniors Rikki Sanders and Ellie Kotsianas “are going to be utility players for us,” Allen said.

Other sophomores are Joy Underwood, Amy Letendre, Megan Garland, Kourtni Jerrell and Leslie Sayers. Other freshmen are Evanne Lowe, Victoria Valades, Priscilla Craig, Elise Ball and Lauren Winstead.


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