The Lakeside MTXE volleyball team boasts quite the stacked roster.
Lakeside has four college commits on its team this year, and they've led the squad to a 7-2 start and 5-0 tally in the Class 5A-South.
Senior Madi Belle Landry committed to play at Ouachita Baptist University, and the outside hitter racks up kills every match. Landry has been tabbed as a standout for a while, getting invited to be a manager at the Arkansas Activities Association All-Star game after her sophomore year and getting to practice with the All-Stars.
"It's crazy," Landry said. "I never thought I would go play college volleyball when I was even a sophomore going to the All-Star game. When I went there I just looked up to those people like, 'Oh my gosh, I want to do that. I want to be them.' It just all paid off."
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Landry represents just one piece of a standout MTXE team filled with talent.
Just a junior, Lauren Latham already committed to a Division I Power Five school in Kansas State. Latham illustrates her deep tool box on the court by both setting and hitting. In Lakeside's game against Texarkana Thursday, she finished with 15 assists, eight kills and three digs.
"It was such a dream (to commit to Kansas State)," Latham said. "I felt so honored because there's so many girls that play volleyball and it was really just a dream to be able to play at that level."
Staying closer to home but also attending a Division I school, senior Lauren Foreman committed to play at Little Rock for the Trojans.
Foreman mostly hits for Lakeside, but she will be a setter once she gets to the collegiate level.
"Setting is like my comfort position," Foreman said. "I know what I'm doing. I know what my hitters need. I know how to position the ball to my hitters. ... I think I switch pretty well (between the positions)."
Rounding out the college commits for MTXE volleyball, senior Aubrey Judd committed to Pensacola State College. Pensacola State is a junior college, and Judd plans to take her collegiate volleyball career to an even higher level once she's done there.
Just like all the college commits on head coach Rhonda Thigpen's Lakeside team, Judd's understanding of her position is paramount to her success on the court. Listed as a middle blocker, Judd tallied four solo blocks and 11 kills in a 3-1 win over Sheridan Tuesday.
"I feel like I've improved immensely," Judd said. "Not even just power and just hitting in general. Just my IQ on the court. ... (IQ) is extremely important. Power is not everything. Some people will believe that, some won't. But power is not everything. You have to be smart on the court no matter what. If you're just hit, hit, hit all the time, the other team will read that. The block will read that. They will be able to stop that ball.
"You have to be able to have an IQ to know what shots work best. Can you hit line, cross-court, cut the ball, can you tip it in certain spots. So IQ is extremely important for every single player, not just hitters. Even the back row and the setters especially. IQ is definitely a very, very important part of volleyball and being a hitter."
Landry developed her game over time by watching other great volleyball players.
"Watching Texas," Landry said. "Texas is my big idol. My dad is from Texas. My family's from Texas. So I'd just watch every game they had, and I'd just develop my game just by watching players and how they hit and how they do the line shot, hit, tip, everything.
"I'd just do it in practice and I'd watch my film. I watch my film. I played (Thursday). I watched it (Thursday) night before I went to bed to see what I could do better the next game."
Latham has shown she can both set and hit for Lakeside, and at Kansas State she plans to do some of both. Standing at 5-9, she said she'll have to keep improving her vertical to hit well on the collegiate level.
Latham doesn't just hit and set for Lakeside, but she also scores goals and creates chances on the soccer pitch for the Lady Rams. A multisport athlete with plenty of talent, Latham pursued playing volleyball on the collegiate level.
"I love the energy of volleyball," she said. "I feel like in soccer one person can kind of take over the game, but in volleyball it's like a team sport and it's so much faster paced and every point is super important."
In committing to Little Rock, Foreman said it meant a lot because it showed she has the skills to compete on the Division I level. For Foreman, the location of Little Rock meant a lot, too.
"Being close to home was one of my first priorities," Foreman said. "Family means everything to me. So I was like I'm not going to California. I'm not going to New York. I'm not going far away. So when I got this offer, I immediately took it."
Moving much farther from home, Judd said she'll be happy wherever she lands after her time at Pensacola State.
"Obviously I would love to go D1, but if I go D2 I'm totally OK with that," Judd said. "As long as I'm able to play the sport I love in college and continue my academic career to be the best where I want it to be. I know I'm smaller for a middle. I'm only 5-11 for a middle, so I know I won't be able to go big, big D1. But just anywhere I'm able to play my sport and play on the court, I'd be happy to end up there."
Landry, Latham, Foreman and Judd will all play major roles in the rest of Lakeside's season. The team made it to the state quarterfinals last year where they fell to eventual state runner-up Valley View 3-1.
The MTXE squad faces a challenge Tuesday that should shed some early-season light on how primed Thigpen's team is for a deep run in the state tournament this season.
Lakeside travels to Benton to take on the defending state champion in a pivotal conference game early in the year.
Thigpen's four college commits proved they have what it takes to play at the next level, and the combination of a quality coach and quality players might just be the right mix for Lakeside this season.
"We're hard workers," Landry said. "We compete. Very competitive. Our coach is the main reason that helped me get to OBU. She has helped me in my recruiting process. She's helped me develop my game. Everything I can think of, she's helped me with volleyball."