Alconbury sophomore Nikki Reuning conducts a setting drill as senior Brianna Smith and sophomore Caiti Stewart watch during an Alconbury practice last week.

Alconbury sophomore Nikki Reuning conducts a setting drill as senior Brianna Smith and sophomore Caiti Stewart watch during an Alconbury practice last week. (Sean Kimmons / S&S)

The four U.S. high school girls volleyball teams in the United Kingdom have something in common as they prepare for the upcoming season: They all have new coaches.

In addition, defending DODDS-Europe Division IV champ Alconbury, Division I Lakenheath, Division III London Central and Division IV Menwith Hill are still working on filling out their starting teams with a few returning players and a bunch of newbies in anticipation of their Sept. 16 season-opening jamboree.

Here’s a preview of the U.K. volleyball teams:

Alconbury Lady DragonsThe Lady Dragons won their second consecutive Division IV championship last season.

This year they will be led by Lea Morris, who directed high school volleyball programs in the States for 12 years before arriving at Alconbury. She’ll have a mostly new squad with only one returning starter, senior Brianna Smith.

Senior Andrea Starr is also back on the squad, after a knee injury prevented her from playing last year. Sophomore setter Caiti Stewart, who Morris said has “really good hands,” also is expected to have a key role.

Morris said practices have been focusing on defense, serving and knowledge of the game.

“If the defense isn’t there, you don’t have anything,” she said.

Lakenheath Lady LancersThe Lady Lancers were seeded fourth in last year’s Division I tournament, but did not advance from their pool to the final four.

That performance is not one returning players like to talk about. Instead, they’re looking to improve under new coach Kathy Schick.

Lakenheath has more returning players than the other U.K. schools, including four seniors: Kristina Jemison, Greta Gerstner, Desiree Colbert and Chelsea Henderson.

Schick hopes the team, behind those experienced players, will finish first or second in the 2006 tournament.

“It’s hard for me to say. I don’t know what the other teams look like, [but] I think that we can do better,” she said.

Schick has been involved in volleyball since she was 8. She recently conducted a volleyball camp at Alderson-Broaddus College in West Virginia. She said she plans to teach the Lady Lancers various plays and options, mostly concentrated on the hitter positions.

London Central Lady BobcatsThe Lady Bobcats took third in the Division III tournament last season.

This year, they will be led by Jeffrey Black, who takes over the squad from six-year coach Susan Payne, who is occupied with her duties as the school librarian.

Black, who just transferred from Okinawa, Japan, where he taught physical education at an elementary school, had his first look at the squad last week.

“They looked very eager and determined to get practice started,” he said.

Luckily, the team has a few returning starters who can help Black prepare the girls for the season ahead. Senior Janet Parker, junior Geena Milho and junior Alyssa Dillon-Wasserman were all varsity members last year.

Black said that he wants a well-balanced team, both offensively and defensively, with good communication on the court.

“With good communication and good teamwork, good things will happen,” he said.

Menwith Hill Lady MustangsThe Lady Mustangs entered last year’s Division IV tourney as the No. 3 seed, but did not advance to the final four.

Without a gym in its high school, the team holds practices at the base gym, where new coach Wanda Gardner has been getting her squad of 14 players ready for this season.

Thus far, Gardner has been impressed with the players’ ability to jell as a team. And with only two returning players — senior Danielle Joseph and junior Kathryn Brew — that seems to be quite a feat.

Gardner played volleyball in high school, but is new to coaching. She relies on two assistant coaches from the men’s base volleyball team to help out, she said.

What she expects from her squad this season is for them to enjoy the game and to play confidently. If they can do that, there’s no reason that they can’t do better this year, she said.

Gardner said she can’t predict how her team will wind up, but wouldn’t be surprised to see it among the top three finishers in the tournament. “I just hope they will enjoy the competition,” she said.

Volleyball schedule

Sept. 16: Lakenheath hosts Alconbury, Menwith Hill and London Central in the U.K. preseason “Jamboree”

Sept. 23: Menwith Hill hosts Alconbury, London Central and AFNorth; Lakenheath and Patch at Weisbaden

Sept. 30: London Central hosts Alconbury, Menwith Hill and Brussels; Bitburg at Lakenheath

Oct. 7: Alconbury hosts Lakenheath and Kaiserslautern; London Central at Menwith Hill

Oct. 14: London Central hosts Menwith Hill and Alconbury; AFNorth hosts Lakenheath, Frankfurt International School, Heidelberg and International School of Brussels

Oct. 21: Lakenheath hosts Menwith Hill and Ramstein; Brussels hosts Alconbury and Shape; London Central hosts Rota and Baumholder

Oct. 28: Alconbury hosts Lakenheath, London Central and Menwith Hill

Nov. 2-4: European Championships at Kaiserslautern

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