TEAMS TO WATCH
1. Baylor: The Lady Red Raiders have been Division II-AA state quarterfinalists recently. They were semifinalists last year. Led by all-staters Haven Bethune and Gabby Gray, they're looking to take the next step.
2. Ooltewah: The Lady Owls lost Sloan Sullivan to Middle Tennessee State University, but five starters return off a team that placed in the top five in the Class AAA state tournament. They also went unbeaten in a tough district.
3. Signal Mountain: The Lady Eagles rebounded from regular-season district losses to Notre Dame and Chattanooga Christian and won the District 7-AA tournament in 2013. They went on to place fourth in the state, and most return.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
1. Taelor Kellum, Signal Mountain: The 6-foot-2 middle blocker, who has committed to Florida, has proven in her career that she can pile up the kills. She's attempting to add more to her game.
2. Courtlyn Ison, Ooltewah: A senior in the 6-foot range, she was a big reason the Class AAA Lady Owls won more than 40 matches a year ago, as well as the Distrct 5 and Region 3 titles. She led the area with 175 blocks.
3. Emma Lenoir, East Hamilton: Not many players across the state can match the all-around game of this Lady Hurricanes junior. Last year she and Ison were voted co-players of the year in rugged District 5-AAA.
At least according to volleyball.com, Class AA Signal Mountain's Taelor Kellum is considered the most talented high school volleyball player in the Chattanooga area. But by her own admission, she still has something to prove.
Kellum is a 6-foot-2 middle blocker who is listed among the website's top 50 recruits in the 2015 graduating class. She was a Times Free Press first-team selection on last year's Best of Preps team, and she has accepted a scholarship offer from the University of Florida.
But has she maximized her potential?
"Definitely I feel I have something to show," Kellum said of her senior season. "I know what I'm capable of. I just have to go to the court and do it. I'm a captain of my team this year. There are reasons why I'm a captain, reasons why I was picked in the top 50, and reasons people are talking about me."
Volleyball season began this week for GHSA teams. The TSSAA season begins Monday. Signal Mountain's season begins Tuesday when it hosts East Ridge at 6 p.m.
Jennifer Redman has been her volleyball coach at Signal Mountain since Kellum was in sixth grade. The coach said back then Kellum was "just tall" and could "get away with things." But since then she has developed athletically while also gaining a greater understanding of the game.
"She was voted a team captain, so I expect her to be a leader on and off the court," Redman said. "She definitely is already more vocal on the court with her teammates.
"The girls look up to her. They're just drawn to her. She knows how to connect with them, which is the way to be a good leader."
Last season Kellum totaled 789 kills, which put her among the leaders in the Chattanooga area. But her 79 blocks ended up being barely more than half the total of area leader and Belmont University-bound Courtlyn Ison, who returns for her senior season at Class AAA Ooltewah.
"I know I want to improve my blocking," Kellum said. "It can get way better than what it is."
Redman is expecting to see a significant statistical leap this season from Kellum, if for no other reason than she'll be on the court more often.
"In the past she's only played front row, but this year she's going to play all the way around, if everything goes well," Redman said. "I think she can get more kills, and her stats serving and passing will go up."
Right-side hitter Natalie Greve is Signal Mountain's other captain this season. Another senior, Amanda Thielges, is a setter along with sophomore Sidney Lapinski.
The Lady Eagles' left-side hitters are sophomore Hallie Hunt and junior Kennady Collick. Sophomore Aubrie Johnson will step in at middle blocker when Kellum rotates to the back, and junior Aryn Sanders returns at libero.
Newcomer McKenzie Lewis is a server and back-row player expected to make key contributions. Fellow freshman Maia Rackel is vying for playing time up front.
"Her vertical is crazy," Redman said of Rackel's ability to jump.
Captain Kellum assures that team chemistry is a strength of the Lady Eagles, who won the District 7 and Region 4 championships last season on the way to a fourth-place finish in the state tournament.
A new-and-improved Kellum could mean loftier expectations for them this season. And new-and-improved everyone else could mean they meet them.
"Our main goal is getting back to state," Redman said. "But that's with them having to buy in working for it. If they don't care what I say, then it's not going to happen. I think we can do better than fourth in the state. It just depends on how bad they want to be state champions."
Contact Kelley Smiddie at firstname.lastname@example.org or 423-757-6653. Follow him at twitter.com/KelleySmiddie.
Kelley Smiddie is a sports writer who has worked at the Times Free Press for 12 years. He covers high school sports and softball. Kelley’s hometown is Chattanooga, and he graduated from Brainerd High School and graduated Chattanooga State and UTC. Contact Kelley at 423-757-6653 or email@example.com.