Russell County High School Lady Lakers Volleyball coach Faith Womack pulls no punches when talking about the goals she has for her team heading into a season unlike any other.
“I think our main goal, when you look at that banner in the gym, we don’t have a district championship on there since 2016,” Womack said. “So, we’re definitely hoping for a big district win and hoping to put 2020 on that banner. I think that’s absolutely possible. We match up pretty well with our district rivals, so I think that’s possible if everyone stays healthy on all fronts. I think that’s our biggest goal.”
Womack said regular season success is important, but her players “have the end in mind” and the team realizes that anything can happen in postseason play, and Womack applies that principle to the entire Fourth Region, despite matching up against schools with much larger student populations than Russell County High School.
“Anything can happen,” Womack said. “Tournament time is a whole new ballgame, if you will, and I think now, more than ever, these girls really have the chance to succeed and make this season what they want it to be.”
The team has a core group of seniors, a group that has been coached by Womack going back to the sixth grade when she coached the middle school team.
“This is really a special group,” Womack said. “I’ve had these girls since they were in sixth grade, so they know me and I know them. They’re really a core part of our group and they really lead our group.”
That group will lead the way, but Womack said the sophomores on the team are making strides and improving daily. That group of sophomores makes up the majority of the team, with 10 total players on the team being sophomores.
Womack said that large group provides a lot of optimism not only for this season, but the program moving forward.
“That’s a large group and it’s kind of unheard of,” Womack said. “You typically don’t have that many, but they’re a very athletic group and it gives me a lot of promise and hope for the future so that even when this core group of seniors leave, we’ll still be able to be competitive for the next few years down the road.”
That group of seniors has taken the younger players under their wing and provided a great example, Womack said.
“They really do set a good example on all fronts,” Womack said. “Not only on-the-court, but they’re good girls at heart and set a good example off-the-court as well.”
One of those seniors is Evan Hoover. She’s played for Womack since the sixth grade, and said she has a great respect for Womack on-the-court as well as off.
“I know if I have anything that’s volleyball-related or just life-related, I can ask Coach Womack,” Hoover said. “The good thing about being with her so long is that she knows what areas we need to work on and things we can get better at.”
As the team hit the floor this week for practices in preparation for their upcoming season opener on Sept. 7 versus Campbellsville, Womack said it was exciting to get back out on the floor and begin preparations for a season that at times, seemed to be in jeopardy.
“We’re excited,” Womack said. “I feel like it’s been a rollercoaster of emotions all summer of wondering whether we will play or not get to play. Through and through, these girls have stayed faithful and their dedication has never wavered. They are as excited to be here as we are and they never lost faith. We’re at that point now where we are ready to grind and get after it and get some wins under our belt.”
But Womack and her team know that this season is unlike any other and an outbreak of COVID-19 could shut the season down. Still, an aura of positivity remains among the players, made clear just by listening to the players’ enthusiasm on the floor and their encouragement for their teammates.
“I think they’re excited but they also know it’s a fine line,” Womack said. “I think everybody on this team knows that, at any moment, this could go away. The plug could be pulled. They know what happened in the spring, so with each practice they just bring their best and come in with smiles on their faces.”
Hoover said the questions about the season have weighed heavily, but said she’s excited that as of now, they have the green light to proceed with the season.
“When the Governor made that announcement earlier this week, we were really excited,” Hoover said. “We’ve been working hard to get ready for this season.”
She also added that the social aspect of sports cannot be downplayed in the midst of the pandemic.
“A big part of it is a social aspect,” Womack said. “These people are like their family, and I know the first day we were able to get together in the summer at Dunamis Fitness, I don’t know how to explain it. They were just so excited to see each other. They hadn’t seen each other, some of them since March. If you stand in here, you can see how excited they are. I think for their mental health, it feels good for them to have this purpose and a place to come every day.”
Hoover had one final message for Russell County sports fans going into the season.
“If we’re allowed to have fans, please come out and watch us,” she said.