POPLARVILLE – Pearl River’s inaugural volleyball team is beginning to take shape.
Head coach Haley Chatham announced Friday the foundation for her program with the addition of six signees from some of the state’s powerhouse programs.
The first group of Lady Wildcat signees includes a trio of Hancock standouts in Maleah Austin, Harleigh LaFontaine and Isabella Theonnes, along with Vancleave’s Carly Danely, Germantown’s Madison Smith and Lewisburg’s Erin Sutton.
“I have had the opportunity to play against these girls and their teams ever since they were freshmen and even coached a couple in the Mississippi Association of Coaches All-Star Game last summer, so I really got to know them well,” Chatham said. “With the experiences I’ve had across the net from the girls, I know they’re all great players who have been well coached and come from outstanding club and high school programs.
“They all have winning pedigrees and have shown great leadership. I’m really excited to add them to our program.”
Austin is an outside hitter whose elite athleticism has helped her stand out on the court.
“She has become a real explosive hitter over the last two years,” Chatham said. “She plays well all the way around the court and has a deadly serve; all three Hancock girls are great servers.
“She can really jump, too.”
Chatham is familiar with all six signees, but she has the most history with Danley, who was an integral part of the Lady Bulldogs’ dominance as reigning two-time State Champs.
“I was able to watch Carly become this awesome leader who takes care of everything over the last five years. She really took over the game and did that numerous times for me at Vancleave. She’s a great kid,” Chatham said of the 5-foot-9 rightside hitter. “Her quote is “life’s about helping everybody win,’ and she really took ownership of that.
“She got better by helping everyone else around her. She knows that’s important.”
In addition to being a special rightside hitter, Chatham said Danley is also a great blocker.
LaFontaine is the second of three Hancock Hawks to sign with PRCC. As a setter, Chatham said she expects LaFontaine to be the quarterback of the team’s attack and really run the entire court.
“She’s a really dynamic setter and is able to set her hitters up for success. I’ve watched her do that year in and year out,” Chatham said. “She’s also really fun and energetic, so I expect her to bring that to the team as well.”
At 6-foot-3, Smith will add plenty of size to PRCC’s first signing class.
“I just fell in love with her from the moment I met her,” Chatham said of the middle blocker. “She’s so motivated with a lovely personality. She loves to play and learn about the game. She’s open to do whatever it is to get better and better.”
Not only will Smith be a key cog in the middle for the Lady Wildcats, Chatham said she’s dynamic enough to also be a standout at rightside as well.
The player who will tie together PRCC’s defensive efforts will likely be Sutton, a libero from Lewisburg in North Mississippi.
“Erin is a tough, tough defensive player,” Chatham said. “She’s a great passer. I’ve watched her give her setter great balls over and over.”
Equally as impressive is Sutton’s motor.
“I’ve never seen her give up,” Chatham said. “She’ll be an asset for us in the back because it all starts with the first pass.”
The third Hancock Hawk to sign with Chatham will be pivotal in PRCC’s attack.
“Bella was the girl where every time we scouted Hancock we knew we had to figure out a way to defend her,” Chatham said. “She’s a powerful hitter who can jump out of the gym and put the ball down.”
Like several of her new teammates, Theonnes is also versatile. In addition to playing outside hitter, Theonnes also has plenty of experience at middle blocker.
Chatham expects to fill out the rest of PRCC’s inaugural signing class throughout the remainder of the spring semester.