Makayla Howard

Clinton’s Makayla Howard passes a ball during the 2020 tournament at North Scott in this Herald file photo

CLINTON – Another year starting in the state rankings, another year set to compete in a powerful Mississippi Athletic Conference.

That’s just the way Clinton volleyball works. The No. 14 River Queens return scrappy talent to the roster and they’re looking to make an impact.

The MAC coaches picked Clinton to finish fifth in yet another loaded year for the conference, preceded by Pleasant Valley, Assumption, North Scott and Bettendorf. All four of those teams, along with Clinton, are in the state rankings in their respective classes.

”I would much rather have four state ranked teams and compete on a nightly basis than the alternative of a weaker conference with no respect,” head coach Micah Cewe said. “The MAC is deeper and the strength of schedule will prepare us for the post season. “

Important returners for the River Queens come primarily on the offensive side of things. MAC honorable mention Jamie Greenwalt returns, keeping consistency at setter for the front row.

First team all conference outside hitter Makayla Howard is also back at it for the Queens.

”Makayla Howard has been playing at a high level and showed that last [week versus North Scott],” Cewe said. “She led us in kills, blocks, digs, and total passes in serve receive. She is a talented athlete that gets the job done on a daily basis in practice and during our match last night.”

Also back as part of that front row is the likes of Kailyn Graves, Ali House, Mia Tubbs and Payton Luett.

The Queens, who were a substate team two years ago, also impressed in the conference last season with several large upset wins. They’ve already had a tough test, facing Class 4A #1 North Scott on Tuesday in their home opener.

The Queens fell 3-1 in a thriller. Clinton took the first set and fell in the fourth by just two points.

“Our program and team is always up for the challenge,” Cewe said. “We embraced playing the No. 1 team in Class 4A. We are familiar with North Scott from past years, and I thought our girls stepped up to the challenge in the first and last set of the match. Our motto has always been to respect our opponents, but never to fear them.”

Although a lot of their offensive power is back, there are questions in the defense to be addressed.

”We need to fill the gaps in our ball control and passing,” Cewe said. “We are inexperienced in the back row, but will more reps and experience we will get better over time this season in those categories. Court awareness, playing next to our teammates, and positioning ourselves around the block will be keys to strive for the next level.”

The Queens compete in Ankeny over the weekend and jump back into MAC play on Tuesday, taking on Class 5A No. 14 Bettendorf on the road.

Although the big ranked teams are exciting, the entire MAC has potential to upset any night. Cewe wants to see focus from his team night in and night out, not just in the big games.

”The top half of the MAC is very impressive and that’s where we want to complete,” Cewe said. “This also means we need need to take care of business with the bottom half of MAC. You can’t take a night off, our team is built for playing 50-75%, we will lose if we don’t come prepared and ready to play every MAC night. “

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