Bloomfield volleyball loses key players but coach believes another district title in reach
BLOOMFIELD — The Bloomfield volleyball team lost all-stater Bailey Below, but coach Haley Silman still expects her team to be in the hunt for a district championship.
Below helped the Wildcats win four straight district championships, while finishing her career with 1,119 kills. She signed with John A. Logan College in Carterville, Illinois, last year.
“We lost a setter and a hitter with Bailey and just a strong presence on the floor,” Silman said during the Little Wildcats Volleyball Camp on Friday. “She’s one of the hardest hitters I’ve seen. She’s just so smart on the floor. We’re going to try to do our best to fill her shoes. … We’re going to miss her, but we’re good. We’ll be alright.”
The Wildcats also lost Lilly Warrick, who signed to play volleyball for East Central College in Union, Creylee Huddleston and Michaela Tidwell.
Bloomfield has won five straight district titles and reached the state quarterfinals four times and the state semifinals once during that stretch.
“That’s always kind of our endgame — win that district championship,” Silman said. “Last year, I think we surprised a lot of people by beating Saxony (Lutheran in the district championship match), but the girls, they wanted it. You can’t really teach that. That’s something the girls have to have. I think these girls have that. Even if we don’t win, we’re going to do our best to get there. We’re going to go down fighting and swinging.”
Senior Eva Hester, junior Melanie Phillips, sophomore Shilynn Bader, freshman Mallory Hawkins and Bailey’s sister, Molly, will give the Wildcats multiple options on the attack.
“(Melanie), she started hitting the ball really well the last four weeks of the season last year,” Silman said. “She was getting way more consistent and had more confidence. Now, it’s even better.”
Phillips credited some of her success on watching Bailey Below play the game.
“She always went out there and she kind of put the fear into the other team with how hard she was swinging,” Melanie Phillips said. “By the end to the season, I kind of picked up on that. Even if you swing hard and miss, they’re still going to be scared of you.”
Hester missed about half of last season after injuring her ankle during warmups before the team’s season opener.
“She’s hungry and she’s ready,” Silman said. “She’s been hitting the ball really, really well. She’s stepped up into that leadership role, and we really needed her to. I’m excited to see how she does.”
Silman likes Hawkins’ potential.
“She’s young and green, but I think she’s going to do really well,” Silman said. “She needs experience and we’ve already seen some improvement over the past few weeks. She’ll help us out a lot on the front row.”
Melanie Phillips is willing to help her younger teammate.
“I’m trying to be a role model and help Mallory because she hasn’t been playing on varsity,” Phillips said. “I’m kind of helping her out, so it’s not (just one) big hitter. We can both have a little of the spotlight.”
Molly Below will shift to a more familiar position for her sophomore season, outside hitter.
“She was our right side last year. She was a freshman and we kind of threw her out there in a position she never played,” Silman said. “She did a really great job. This year, we’re moving her back to where she’s most used to, like outside, playing a little defense on the left side. That’s where she played at in club ball. She’s more comfortable out there.”
Junior Ashton Bell will step into the setter role that was occupied by Bailey Below and Huddleston, who led the team with 295 assists, last season.
“She set for JV the past two years. She’s really court aware,” Silman said. “She knows the game well. I think she’s going to do a great job for us.”
The team’s only other senior, Natalie Powell, and sophomore Karsynn Phillips return as defensive specialists. Phillips led the team in digs (322) last season.
“We kind of threw her to the wolves and made her get up everything she could,” Silman said. “She did a phenomenal job for us last year. … She essentially went from eighth grade to varsity. That’s a big gap right there.”
Phillips called her experience at the start of last season “crazy.”
“I think the thing that I really learned was confidence because I know the first couple of games, I was scared,” Karsynn Phillips said. “Once we had our team, they made me feel more confident in passing and stuff like that.”
The Wildcats have been spending their contact days in the gym working on fundamentals but will participate in a shootout at Jackson and a Rib City Shootout in July.
“We’ve seen so much improvement the past few weeks, getting everybody back in the groove,” Silman said. “Getting them used to their new positions. This team gets along so well. They always like to have fun. They’re joking, laughing, but they’re serious and they want to win. I’m really excited to see how we put it all together and how we do.”