Pearl River volleyball looks to build on foundation of last season

Published 8:05 am Monday, August 16, 2021

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Before the start of the 2020-21 season, Pearl River head coach Haley Chatham set the theme “taking the next step” for her program and the Wildcats rose to the occasion. Just four months removed from last season, Chatham feels her team can build on the foundation that was laid and have an even more successful 2021-22 season.

“We have a full roster of 14 with about half of those just coming off of a full season in April,” Chatham said. “Our new players for this season inserted themselves into the mix immediately. I expect to be able to build on the success of the spring season and turn fall 2021 into an incredible season.”

Due to the 2020-21 season being moved to spring ’21, Pearl River was dealt an extremely short offseason, but if you ask Chatham if it hurt her team, she will tell you that it feels no different.

“This season, our new kids are so well trained and experience,” Chatham said. “I am so thankful for their high school and club programs – those coaches did an incredible job with these players. They just know what to do and that is going to be a difference-maker this season. Add in the returners who recently came off a great season of their own, our shorter preseason has been a seamless one.

“We are hungry to compete and are counting down the days to the kickoff of our season.”

The fall roster has several impactful returners, led by Diamond Jones (Gonzales, La; East Ascension), Avery Beth Durdin (Olive Branch; Lewisburg), Leah Draine (Mobile, Ala.; Mattie T. Blount) and Payton McKerchie (Vancleave).

Jones was not only a star on the Pearl River roster, but she was also a star nationally, finishing first in the NJCAA in kills-per-set with 4.92. She tallied 394 kills, 224 digs and 78 saves.

Durdin finished the season with 0.54 service aces-per-set, which ranked first on the team and 11th in the NJCAA. She also added in 359 assists and 196 digs.

Draine led the Wildcats in digs with 309. She also chipped in 166 kills and 77 saves.

“I’m so excited to see them build on the experience gained from last season and take on leadership roles as program veterans,” Chatham said. “Leah has been here from Day 1 of the program and her experience is invaluable. Diamond and Avery Beth both have qualities that can help guide our team and put us on a path to success.”

Despite missing all of the 2020-21 season due to injury, Chatham expects the return of McKerchie to be important for her team’s success this season.

“Payton had both shoulder and ACL surgery just before the spring season started last year and has worked hard to rehab so that she is ready for the season,” she said. “Her kind of dedication mixed with the fact that she is a fast, powerful hitter and block who reads her opponents early is going to put her in a position to take us to new heights.

“I’m thrilled to see her take the court again.”

Other valuable veterans include Leighton Willoughby (Brandon; Northwest Rankin), Amy Wright (Palm Bay, Fla.; Melbourne Central Catholic), Hannah Burks (Ocean Springs; Vancleave) and Chloe Paske (St. Martin).

Last season, Willoughby registered 152 kills and Paske chipped in 39. Playing the role of a defensive specialist, Wright collected 210 digs. Burks was a well-rounded member of the Wildcats, tallying 66 kills and 149 digs.

The Wildcats added an influx of talent to their 2021 roster, picking up several high school standouts and hitting the transfer portal for another.

New faces to the program are middle blocker Emma Bahr (Ocean Springs), right side hitter Jasmine Burdine (Biloxi), libero Annah Marshall (Lake Cormorant), libero Allison Carpenter (Ocean Springs), setter Julianah Overstreet(Vancleave) and South Alabama transfer, Sydney Salter.

Chatham feels that Salter will improve the team’s defensive efforts.

“Sydney is so reliable,” she said. “We are going to count on her to cover us on the floor and I have no doubt she is up for the task. She thrives on responsibility. Sydney is super smart and a tremendous athlete. I’m thrilled to have her defending the floor for us this year.”

Overstreet will feature as an offensive asset for the Wildcats.

“Julianah has been a game-changer on every team she’s ever played on,” Chatham said. “She’s already made us more dynamic offensively. She’s incredibly talented yet she works and practices like she’s never won. She always shows up to compete. I couldn’t ask for more from her. I’m excited to see her run the court.”

In addition to playing volleyball, Overstreet will suit up for the Wildcat softball team while Salter hits the pitch with women’s soccer.

The 5-foot-8 Bahr tallied 264 kills and 216 digs in her Ocean Springs career.

Burdine had a breakout senior season for the BHS Indians, leading her team in kills (103) and kills per set (2.5). Her 98 assists and 19 blocks were each second on the team.

Marshall led Lake Cormorant to a MHSAA 5A State Championship and collected 389 digs along the way.

Carpenter was a valuable defensive player for Ocean Springs, tallying 371 digs as a senior.

Pearl River kicks off its season with a road contest against MACCC rival Northwest on August 20. The Wildcats will host Louisiana College in Shivers Gymnasium for their home opener on August 30.

Single-match tickets will be made available soon and can be purchased at 

The Wildcats will once again livestream all matches for free at Fans who have Roku, Amazon Fire or Apple TV devices can also watch the Wildcat broadcasts by downloading the “Pearl River CC” channel from their app stores.

For the latest on Pearl River Community College athletics, follow them on Twitter (@PRCCAthletics) and Facebook (PRCCAthletics).