By almost every measurement the 2017 season was the most successful in the 10-year history of the Lady Flyers volleyball program at Sandhills Community College.
Seventy-five people, including Coach Alicia Riggan and the team's assistant coaches and players, attended a banquet at the Dempsey Student Center last week to celebrate a team record 27-win season that included both Region X regular season and tournament titles.
The season came to a close on October 28 with a loss in five sets to Northampton CC in the District H tournament held in Bethlehem, Pa. The Lady Flyers came that close to qualifying for the national tournament held in Rochester, Minn.
"Once you've gone to nationals you set the goal every season to go and you want the girls to experience that," said Riggan who took the Flyers there in 2010. "They played their hearts out and it was like that the whole season. They went down fighting. It's still hard knowing that we were super, super close."
Led by sophomores Paige Garner, Erica Groff, Morgan McCarthy and Leah Salzwedel , the 27-6 mark included a team record 13 wins in a row to start the season. The Lady Flyers did not lose a single set while compiling a 12-0 conference record. Twenty-three of their wins overall were sweeps.
The loss to a Northampton team they swept in New York City back in September was their first of the season to an NJCAA Division III opponent.
It was announced this week that Garner was named to the NJCAA Division III All-American first team. She becomes the second Lady Flyer to earn that recognition. Miranda Love, another North Moore High School alum, earned that distinction in 2010.
Lady Flyers Exceed the Their Community Service Goals
At the banquet Riggan talked about the community service commitment players and coaches are asked to make each year. The goal was for each member of the team to perform at least 10 hours of service in a variety activities, including church, bible school, volleyball camps and the team's annual breast cancer awareness fundraiser.
The total number of team hours of service increased from 181 in 2015 to 624 so far this year. Every coach and player is above 20 hours led by freshman Jordan Ward with 64.
"We are a community college and we want to be involved in the community," Riggan said. "We charge our student athletes with having a presence in the community."
One of the highlights of the season was the presence of Liz Ray at the annual Pink Out volleyball game against Central Carolina CC in early October. The team has supported the North Moore High School junior in her battle against cancer for the past two years.
"It feels really good," Ray said following that match. "I'm doing better and I'm just really happy about it. Everyone's support is what got me through it."
Flyers Start and Finish Fast
Looking back at the early part of the season, the Flyers were 9-0 by Labor Day while winning most of the matches handily. They were 13-0 before losing in five sets to Johnson and Wales, a four year college.
Going into the District H match the Flyers had won nine of their last 11 including a sweep of two-time defending champion Patrick Henry CC in the Region X tournament title match.
Region and Team Awards
Riggan (171-65, nine years) earned the Region X Coach of the Year honor for the fourth time. Sophomore middle hitter Paige Garner was the Region X Player of the Year. Her two-year totals of 626 kills and 139 solo blocks are both Flyer records.
Freshmen Brooke Sayers and Abby Wallace also made the all-region first team. Sophomore Erica Groff, a second team selection, finished her Flyer career with a team record 1,204 digs. Sophomore Morgan McCarthy was an honorable mention selection.
The other freshmen members of the team were Kaitlyn Lisenby, Chelsea Green, Catherine Carriker, Kiana Brown and Tee'Ashia Lilly. The assistant coaches were Kristin Hylton, Ashleigh McKenzie and Jacob Marley. Cheyenne Brown was a student coach.
The evening's festivities included providing the sophomores with their jerseys and all of the players with region championship shirts and a team picture. A highlight video put together by Ryan Riggan was shown.
A few weeks before the banquet, Sandhills President John Dempsey and his wife Evelyn took the team to Vito's Restaurant in Southern Pines to celebrate the season.
Championship Banners Are On the Way
According to Athletic director Aaron Denton the Region X regular season and tournament championship banners have not arrived, but will be unveiled at Heins Gymnasium during an upcoming basketball game.
"I'm still not over it," Garner said of the tough loss to Northampton. "It was very hard to swallow. I wish we could have gone to nationals, but it is very exciting to be a part of helping put up a banner and to be able to come back and see it."
For athletic director Aaron Denton the successes on the court and community involvement all add up to one thing.
"What I think about volleyball is that it's a program." he said. "What this team accomplished as an athletic team on the court was phenomenal and the girls on the team deserve every bit of the credit. At the same time the coaches and players over the years have built a program.
"When the wins on the court and the service to the community all come together it's really something special."