Bell City wants to have serious fun on its way to a Class 1 title

Monday, August 27, 2007
The Bell City volleyball team includes (seated) Rachel Spears, left, Jenny Lathum, and Jessica Abner, and (back) Jessica Speakman, left, Codie Lancaster, Sherilyn Long, Mallory Dockins, Bethany Chilton, Alison Lee, Alex Eakin, LaGena Strobel and Alicia Slagley. (Kit Doyle)

The Cubs return four starters from last year's final four team.

Bell City's Rachel Spears, Jessica Abner, Jenny Lathum and Codie Lancaster know how to work hard and have fun.

Spears, Abner and Lathum -- three seniors -- and junior setter Lancaster are looking to lead the Cubs to a state title after finishing in fourth place in Class 1 last year. The foursome plans to do this not only by staying after practice to improve their games, but also by mixing in a little dancing, drawing, taco-eating and singing.

All four volleyball players have been starters since their freshmen seasons. Cubs coach Erin Hoffman says they are terrific athletes but their lively personalities are what she will miss the most when the three seniors graduate next spring.

"It's nice to be successful, but I think we'll be successful no matter who comes through here," she said. "I'm just going to miss their personalities even off the court. ... They're all goofy."

Junior Mallory Dockins said the four liven up practice and make it worth attending.

"Jenny Lathum is probably the best dancer on the team, Rachel makes jokes, and Abner draws good elephants, and Codie hits people in the face with her braids," Dockins said before a team dinner in which tacos were served. "And they all rap. We make up raps about everybody in the entire gym."

The three seniors, who have even made up a rap about their coach, have been playing volleyball with one another since about the third grade. And Lancaster joined them on the court often during elementary school.

Hoffman said all four have an expectation of winning the state tournament after falling short the past two years. In 2005, the Cubs finished in third. Hoffman said the competition will be tougher this year. Bernie, Leopold and Bismarck will all challenge to represent Southeast Missouri, she said.

Lathum will be at her normal spot as a blocker. An all-state selection as a sophomore, Lathum will be a force on defense but it is her dancing that keeps the team loose. She is often seen doing the tootsie roll dance, among other dances.

"Codie and I, before the games when we're warming up, we just act really stupid to get pumped up and at one school the tootsie roll was playing and we started dancing," Lathum said. "So I do the tootsie roll. I have no rhythm. I can't dance at all. ... We all like to goof around and have fun."

Falling down has become part of Lathum's pregame and prepractice routines as well, and apparently is a key ingredient for the Cubs.

"If she doesn't fall, then we don't do good," Dockins said. "But she always falls so we always do good."

Spears, who will return this fall as a middle hitter and blocker, is described by her coach as the team's floor leader, firing up everyone before a contest. Spears led the team in both kills and blocks last season. As a freshman, she actually started as a setter. She was moved to middle during her sophomore year, when Lancaster joined the varsity.

Abner returns as a right-side hitter and is another Cubs player who should have numerous kills this fall. But Abner adds more to the team than just her hard hitting, as she enjoys drawing elephants on everyone's practice shirts. Hoffman decided to let her girls design their own shirts this year.

"We were doing a project in class one day, and I just drew an elephant," she said. "I saw one and I tried to [draw] it onto another piece of paper. They made fun of me because I can't draw at all."

Lancaster returns as the setter, setting the pace for a quick Cubs offense. Hoffman said she began coaching at the school when Lancaster was in the seventh grade and was ready to put her on the varsity then.

Hoffman said the four girls have a terrific work ethic, making a habit of staying after practice as long as needed.

"They wouldn't leave the gym until they were satisfied," Hoffman said. "I'd stay after practice for hours. I would have to kick them out of the gym."

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