Hilton era of HCHS volleyball begins
As the daughter of one of the state’s most successful coaches and a former high school basketball star, Jennifer Hilton has spent all of her life around winning programs.
Translating that success to a different sport Is the challenge for Hilton as the new volleyball coach at Harlan County High School.
“It’s definitely a learning experience for me, and I’ve really started to appreciate this sport. It’s a great sport for girls, and I have learned so much and still have a lot more to learn,” Hilton said. “I’m learning the strategy, and I’m eager to learn more.”
Hilton was a basketball standout at Bell County and then went on to play at Alice-Lloyd College. She grew up around sports as the daughter of Dudley Hilton, who ranks among the all-time leaders in football coaching victories with state titles at both Bell County and Bourbon County.
“I’d be lying if I said I didn’t learn some things from that feller,” Hilton said with a laugh. “My dad taught me everything I know about sports and coaching. It’s important to make kids understand they have a purpose out here. They know they have a reason to work. I want them to know I have their back and I’m here for them.”
Harlan County is coming off a 15-8 season but finished as 52nd District runner-up and lost in the first round of the regional tournament for the third straight year. The Lady Bears haven’t won a district title or won a game in the region since 2014. HCHS won three straight district titles from 2012 to 2014 before finishing second to Harlan each of the past three years.
“I want people to know Harlan County has a volleyball team, and I don’t know if everyone knows a lot about our program,” Hilton said.
Emily Long, a 5-10 junior, has the potential to be one of the region’s top players and is perhaps the most experienced player on the roster.
“Emily has a lot of athleticism — a lot. Emily just has to learn to channel her athleticism,” Hilton said. “We are trying to get her to sit back a little and let someone set her up. She wants to be part of everything and needs to be a little more patient. I’m really excited to have her out on the floor. She will be a big part of the team.
Olivia Minor, also a junior, returns to the lineup and provides quite a bit of knowledge and experience.
“Olivia played in Virginia before she came here and brings some experience,” Hilton said. “Olivia knows the game and will always give me our best effort.”
Haley Scearse and Kathryn Bailey, both seniors, will get a shot at earning starting jobs.
“Haley is a great kid who has a good attitude. She is always attentive and eager to learn and hungry to get better,” Hillton said. “Kathryn played some last year and we’re looking at her as a setter.”
Elizabeth Ball, a senior, is expected to provide a threat around the net.
“Izzy is a hard worker,” Hilton said. “She has some height and that helps in her position at the net. She can tip the ball when needed but also knows how to put some force behind it. She has emerged as a real team leader and will make a valuable contribution to the team.”
Breann Turner, a senior, and Dixie Ewing, a junior, are first-year players who are best known for their basketball skills. Turner is a five-year starter in basketball but a first-year player in volleyball.
“I’m tickled to death to have them out. They will be huge assets. They are both hitters and could help us,” Hilton said.
Hilton acknowledges that several starting jobs could change and other candidates include juniors Matessa Cox, Paighton Freeman and Hannah Jones. Freshmen Lindsey Browning and Serenity Whitehead are also in the mix after impressing Hilton in the preseason.
Hilton’s goals are clear going into the season. She wants to see continued improvement and compete for a district title while breaking a three-year losing streak in the regional tournament.
“I think they are capable of doing that, but it will take some work,” Hilton said. “I can’t say enough about our group of girls. They have accepted me and our assistant coach (Tami Brock). I told them I didn’t know a lot about volleyball yet, but I knew sports and was competitive. They have helped me as much as I helped them. They have given me their best effort. They are eager to change things.”
Aug. 7 Pineville
Aug. 9 Bell County
Aug. 13 Williamsburg
Aug. 16 Knox Central
Aug. 18 at Harlan
Aug. 18 North Laurel (at Harlan)
Aug. 20 at Perry Central
Aug. 21 at Middlesboro
Aug. 27 at Jenkins
Aug. 28 at Thomas Walker, Va.
Aug. 30 at Bell County
Sept. 6 Middlesboro
Sept. 10 Harlan
Sept. 11 Jenkins
Sept. 17 at Barbourville
Sept. 20 at Pineville
Sept. 22 September Smash tourney at North and South
Sept. 24 at Knox Central
Sept. 25 Barbourville
Sept. 29 Smash Bash tourney at Leslie
Oct. 1 at Williamsburg
Oct. 4 Leslie County
12 Kathryn Bailey
12 Haley Scearse
12 Breann Turner
12 Elizabeth Ball
12 Madison Blanton
11 Olivia Minor
11 Matessa Cox
11 Paighton Freeman
11 Emily Long
11 Hannah Jones
11 Dixie Ewing
10 Brenna Early
10 Michaela Creech
10 Taylor Fee
9 Lindsey Browning
9 Kamryn Hoiska
9 Sharon Woodberry
9 Lily Caballero
9 Serenity Whitehead