Craig Harris/Macon County Times Macon County High School junior volleyball player Hallie Dickens will be returning to the court this season after an injury derailed her sophomore campaign.

Craig Harris/Macon County Times

Macon County High School junior volleyball player Hallie Dickens will be returning to the court this season after an injury derailed her sophomore campaign.

Hallie Dickens was in an unfamiliar position last fall.

The Macon County High sophomore volleyball player spent last season in the unfamiliar role of being relegated to a cheerleader.

"It was awful," Dickens said. "It was one of the hardest things ever."

However, Dickens is hoping to nicely fit back into the mix as the team prepares for the upcoming campaign.

"We have high expectations," Dickens said. "I expect us the whole community to have high expectations for us. We lost a lot of great girls (five seniors who graduated). That makes us work even harder.

"We all have our heads straight on. Everybody has been busting their butts. Even the freshman coming in, they're giving it their all. That's what it's about at the end of the day."

After being in the starting lineup as a freshman, Dickens had high expectations entering last season too.

However, an ankle injury in preseason competition at Ooltewah High School -- located in the Chattanooga area -- derailed those hopes.

"It was the last day," Dickens said. "It was the second-to-last game we were going to play. I got set up on the right side. It was a tight set, but I decided to hit it anyway. I landed on my own middle (hitter), which was Kaitlyn (Driver). I went down.

"I hit the floor, so I'm laying there. I was saying, 'No.' I was so mad, because I knew something was sprained or broken. I started hitting the floor. I was able to walk on it. I was thinking, 'If I can move it like this, it's ok.' I wasn't even going to go get it X-rayed. I ended up walking on it to the trainer's officer. He messed around with a lot. He said it was just a sprain and to give it three weeks."

However, upon arriving back in Lafayette, Dickens had it examined.

"The whole drive home was fine," Dickens said. "I went to the doctor the next morning, and he told me I broke my ankle.

"My parents were in Florida ... my whole family was. I had to go to my grandparents' (house). I guess it was the adrenaline, so I could walk on it (after the injury). The next morning, I was hopping around."

Despite the injury, it was expected that Dickens would be able to return to competition midway through the season.

"We thought I would be back maybe around the middle of September," Dickens said. "I wanted to be back before the last Portland game. We went back and he said, 'It's not healing like it's supposed to, so it's going to be longer (recovery)."

Dickens wasn't able to return until the district tournament, and she only played over the final two games of the final match (a loss to White House Heritage in the district semifinals), after Mattie Butler suffered a broken finger.

"I didn't get to play with my seniors again," Dickens said. "It was my last year with them. I really wanted to go far. I wanted to help our team go far."

Butler can relate to Dickens' frustration. Butler was sidelined for multiple weeks last fall due to a shoulder injury, and then, Butler's season ended abruptly when she broke a finger in the fourth set of the White House Heritage match.

"It's very hard (to watch)," Butler said. "My junior year, I was really excited. It was hard sitting on the sideline, because I had never had to sit out that long. It was hard to sit there and get down time and not work on myself. It was really hard.

"It's really frustrating. You have to trust your team to fill in your position and trust in them to do the work and to compete. You can't do it all yourself. You have to sit there and support your team if you're hurt or not. You have to support your team through everything."

Dickens received support from her high-school teammates and then from her club team, the Bravo Volleyball Club (based out of Bowling Green, Kentucky).

"The girls included me," Dickens said of her high-school teammates. "They didn't leave me out. They let me know that they knew I was there.

"A big help was my travel team. They were really patient with me. They helped me get lots of reps in."

However, it took Dickens a while to become re-acclimated.

"I gained a bunch of weight," Dickens said. "I wasn't motivated at first. They made me believe I had potential. High-school spring conditioning helped me get back into it. It was a hard process.

"I was never really confident in myself. Everybody was like, 'Aw, we need you.' It boosted my confidence to come back and help the team."

However, Dickens is hoping that the work that she's put in will pay dividends.

"I'm not the smartest kid in my class," Dickens said. "Volleyball is one of the things I have going for me.

"There's a net set up in my back yard. The summer before my sophomore year, I was out there every day hitting. I want to go play college. To do that, you have work hard."

Tigerette first-year head coach Brooke Smith -- who was the assistant coach last year under her mother, Shari Bowers -- is hoping that Dickens' return pays dividends and she meshes well with the other returning players.

"Having Hallie back is really going to be good for the team," Smith said. "We have some very strong players. Hallie is going to step in and contribute along with those strong players. She is going to be a strong hitter, passer and blocker. I look forward to seeing what she brings back to the team. I'm looking forward to seeing how strong she is going to make our outside this year."

Butler added, "Hallie and I are both back and on the court. Both of us have worked hard for our team and ourselves. We're both really excited. We're really excited to take on Portland (the two-time defending state champion). I'm really excited about it being my senior year. It's going to be a really good season I feel like."

Portland will attempt to reload after losing standout Marlayna Bullington, the two-time most valuable player of the Class AA State Volleyball Tournament.

"Our goals are to beat Portland High School and go to regionals at least this year," Dickens said. "If everybody keeps working hard, I think we can do that. Portland is smart. They know where the holes are. We need to have stamina.

"I'm not too worried about us not being close. I think of every single one of them as my sisters. Even the freshmen coming in, I want to be able to help them as much as I can."

The Tigerettes open the season on Aug. 22, hosting East Robertson.