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Watch now: Mount Zion volleyball on a different path with new coach Traci Dyer-Townsend

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Mount Zion gets ready for Volleyball season

MOUNT ZION — Mount Zion volleyball head coach Traci Dyer-Townsend has started her first season with the Braves with no preconceived ideas. 

Dyer-Townsend coached at Warrensburg-Latham for seven seasons and with move from Class 1A to 3A and new Apollo Conference opponents, she is attacking the challenge with an open mind. 

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during practice at Mount Zion.

"I had forgotten what it was like to start over and just reiterating the culture that I want for the team. I can't just expect it from them to know how I want them communicating with me," she said. "I think working with the kids (and building the roster), I have no bias. People are in the community forever and know this person and that person, but coming in new, I have no biases at all."

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Head coach Traci Dyer-Townsend, center, works with the team during practice at Mount Zion.

Dyer-Townsend takes over from former coach Jay McAtee, who decided to step away from coaching following the 2021 winter season, when the Braves went 11-7. McAtee came to Mount Zion from St. Teresa during the 2012-13 season and went 215-92 in nine seasons that included four regional and two sectional championships.

"It is an honor to lead the program and Mount Zion volleyball has traditionally been very good. I was super excited to join," Dyer-Townsend said. "Warrensburg was a great experience but there is a different caliber of athlete here and there is more to choose from. It has been really fun to work with them. It has been fun to step into those shoes and just see the game at a different level."

With a new team and roster slots to fill, Dyer-Townsend said she appreciated the longer practice buildup to the season than what was available in the winter. 

"We have been at it for four weeks and it has been good to have a lot of time to focus on the fundamentals and tweaking the little things," she said. "It has given me the opportunity to get to know the players, their dynamics as people and how they work together. They are definitely ready to play and see what we are going to be about."

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Alexis Smith, center, during practice at Mount Zion.

One roster adjustment for this year's team is junior Alexis Smith will handle setting duties as well as hit from the right side. Sophomore Denver Anderson will have a larger role and lead the offense as an outside hitter. 

"It is a big challenge but I did set in my junior high seasons and when I started growing I became a hitter. It's a big shift since we are running a faster offense. My focus has mainly been on setting this summer," Smith said. "Denver is learning a lot more quick stuff and she has gotten so much better since last year. I think people underestimated her (as a freshman) but this year she is on a whole new level."

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Denver Anderson during practice at Mount Zion.

Anderson, a first-team All-Apollo conference selection in basketball as a freshman, uses volleyball to prep for the basketball season. 

"The practices get me in basketball shape and all the conditioning helps. They are really great at working us hard with weightlifting and getting a higher vertical," Anderson said. "(Coach McAtee and Coach Dyer-Townsend) are both great coaches. She really has tried to get to know all of us as a person and on the court. She's putting in the effort and we all really appreciate her. They have different styles. She's more about working hard in practice and Jay was really about getting to the point. Coach Townsend takes it step-by-step through the fundamentals."

The Braves picked up a win in their opening game of the season on Thursday against Effingham, 2-1, and Dyer-Townsend is finding the team's rhythm with an offense they are familiar with and the speed she is looking for. 

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Denver Anderson, center, during practice at Mount Zion.

"I like fast and more dynamic play and so I think it is a little faster than they are used to. We are getting on our own pace and we are combining what they know and what I like in my system. We are figuring out where we can plug in those athletes," she said. "Alexis is a jumper and she's strong and smart. She plays volleyball all year (with Illini Elite) so we are lucky to have her. 

"Denver is a powerhouse. She's strong and has gotten better day-by-day and hitting harder and smarter. They all have good court sense and I think our biggest challenge is communicating as a team together."

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Head coach Traci Dyer-Townsend, center, works with the team during practice at Mount Zion.

Smith said she's expecting big things for her team and it all starts with a conference title. 

"We are so excited about our season. We want to start off with the conference win and I see Taylorville and Mahomet as our biggest opponents," Smith said. "If we can beat them, then we can win conference and then a regional championship after that." 

Contact Matthew Flaten at (217) 421-6968. Follow him on Twitter: @MattFlaten


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