HARTSELLE — An unexpected influx of volleyball talent rolled into Hartselle during the offseason from the land of the Great Lakes.
The addition of Michigan natives Tori Denslow and Taylor Dellinger is one of the reasons the Hartselle volleyball team is in the Alabama High School Athletics Association Super Regional that begins today at Huntsville’s Von Braun Center.
Hartselle is one of seven teams from The Daily coverage area playing in the super regional. The second-ranked Lady Tigers play Center Point at 12:45 p.m. today.
Hartselle lost four of five starters to graduation last year so the 2012 season appeared to be one of inexperience and unknown for the Lady Tigers.
Denslow, 5-foot, 9-inch blocker, arrived in January from Grand Rapids, Mich. She moved to Hartselle with her mom.
Denslow said playing softball at Hartselle High changed everything about her move. Playing softball led to playing volleyball, she said.
“I never would have made any friends if I didn’t play softball because I’m too shy,” Denslow said. “They dragged me into being happy and social. Now, I feel like I’ve been here forever.”
The federal government transferred Dellinger’s father from Clarkston, Mich., to Huntsville. He chose Hartselle after scouting the North Alabama area last winter.
“I really didn’t think he would pick Hartselle,” Lady Tiger coach Tanya Lybarger said. “The counselor called me in the spring and, ‘You know that guy who scouted us for his daughter? They’re moving here.’ I was excited.”
The coach only could hope the transferring daughter had inherited dad’s 6-8 height.
Clarkston is a suburb of Detroit so Dellinger, a 6-0 sophomore, was worried that Hartselle would be too small and too country.
“I didn’t like it all,” Dellinger said. “I was very upset and had a hard time with it.”
Once again, her new Hartselle teammates smoothed the transition. Taylor Lybarger, coach’s daughter, and Dellinger played on travel volleyball teams in a national tournament in Florida, so the Lybargers made sure to scout their new player.
Dellinger didn’t get a chance to feel lonely. Taylor Lybarger and fellow juniors, Alley Orr, Melissa Paul Hill and Haley Jared, visited with food the day the Dellinger family moved into their new home.
They went to team camp at Samford University three days later. After five days of living and playing together, Denslow and Dellinger returned from Birmingham fully integrated as Lady Tigers.
“We all just really clicked,” Taylor Lybarger said.
Both newcomers said this made life much easier when classes started at their new school in August.
The teens often give each other a hard time about their Michigan or Southern accents. It’s not unusual for them to have to repeat what they said so the Michigan girls understand them.
Denslow said she sometimes finds Southern lingo enters her vocabulary.
“But then she says, ‘You guys,’ and ruins it,” Battles said.
The two newcomers helped the Lady Tigers climb to No. 1 in the state by the end of September.
Denslow’s strength is as a blocker, coach Lybarger said. She has 71 kills and 52 block this season.
“We’re strongest when she is on the right side of the net blocking for us,” coach Lybarger said.
Dellinger may be the top newcomer in the area. Coach Lybarger said the 6-foot sophomore’s can play on the front and back lines so her versatility has been key for Hartselle.
She filled a vacancy at middle hitter, but she is also one of the team’s top servers. She has 490 kills, 59 aces and 379 digs this season.
“If Taylor is playing well and we’re playing good team play, we’re pretty good,” coach Lybarger said.
A late-season drop-off kept the Lady Tigers from winning the Morgan County Tournament and finishing the regular season as the top-ranked team in the state. Hartselle is 41-19 on the season.
The players believe they’ve solved those problems and they’re ready for super regionals.
“We’ve had our ups and won, but we’ve stuck together,” Denslow said. “If we compete as a team instead of as individuals, I feel like we can win state.”
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