Lady Dragons off to strong start after disappointing 2020 season


Team members include, from left, front row: Kendyll Blanton, Ella Farley, Tess Bryson, Skylar Helton, Doneisha Harriston, Mallory McNeil and Emma Owens; back row: coach Shawna Cox, Taylor Hall, Ava Nunez, Campbell Nunez, Harley Middleton, Marissa Marlowe, Annie Hoskins, Bailee Maples, Carly Thomas and assistant coach Cecilia Adams.

By John Henson, Managing Editor

After one season away, Shawna Cox is back as coach of the Harlan volleyball squad and is determined to bring the Lady Dragons back to where they were when winning four straight 52nd District titles from 2015 to 2018.
The Lady Dragons slipped to 3-8 last season, their lowest win total since 2009, and were eliminated in the first round of the district tournament for the first time since 2014.
Harlan has already moved within one win of its total for last season with a four-set win over Pineville and a five-set victory over Barbourville to open the regular season.
“We are a young team with lots of talent,” Cox said. “These girls are working hard and have had plenty of obstacles to overcome before the season has even started. I’m looking forward to a full schedule and a great season with this team.
Carly Thomas, a freshman, was one of the region’s top young players a season ago and is back to lead this year’s squad.
“Carly is making a name for herself playing multiple sports for Harlan,” Cox said. “No matter the position, she is your girl coachable, reliable, consistent and an all-around great athlete.”
Annie Hoskins, also a freshman, is another returning player.
“Annie is a very talented athlete,” Cox said. “She is quick and a well-rounded team player.”
Emma Owens, a sophomore, also returns.
“She is quick on the court and fast thinking when playing the game,” Cox said.
Campbell Nunez and Marissa Marlowe, both juniors, will play key roles.
“Campbell is an all-around great player and teammate. She also makes a great leader because of her reliability and encouragement,” Cox said. “Marissa is our number one net threat. She came a long way over the years — starting out timid, but now she intimidates.”
Kendyll Blanton, a sophomore, is also back.
“She has come a long way she started playing in middle school and has made a name for herself,” Cox said. “Kendyll makes a great captain because of her ability to step in and be a leader when needed.”
With their fast start boosting confidence, the Lady Dragons expect to get back to the regional tournament after missing out last season.
“They may be young, but they are learning and growing together every day,” Cox said. “I hope to be a positive influence and the encouragement they need for a winning season. Our goal is to take each game one at a time and learn from every game, but of course we are striving to get that 52nd District chip.”