Inexperienced, but Eager Lady Flyers Prep for New Season

Inexperienced, but Eager Lady Flyers Prep for New Season

Official practices began for a "brand new" Sandhills Community College volleyball team on Thursday with a one-mile run, picture-taking and baseline concussion testing at a computer lab.

There are no returnees from last year's squad that took advantage of the experience provided by seven second-year players to win 19 matches in a row during the course of finishing with a record of 24-5 and a final No. 10 national ranking.

For Lady Flyers' Coach Alicia Riggan the positive impression the team's 13 new players have made early-on outweighs concerns about their inexperience at the college level.

"They eat sleep and breathe volleyball," she said as the team began volleyball activities in earnest on Friday. "They've been getting after it in open gyms and when we had the camp they really bonded together. They all have a chance to earn a starting position as freshmen and I think that is appealing to them.

"It's really exciting to see 13 girls that may or may not have known each other before really anxious to get to know each other and form that connection. They are here for a common interest and hopefully that will turn into a lot of friendships and a great experience for them."

The team's one sophomore is East Montgomery High School product Stephanie Pages who played at Pfeiffer last fall before transferring to Sandhills for the spring semester. Some of the other newbies have been high school or club team teammates or played against each other. Eleven of the them earned all-conference recognition.

Camryn Lowe and Alexus McCrimmon, for example, were teammates at North Moore High School as were Mya Sencenbaugh and Khaile Jones at Purnell Swett. Carley Modlin (Pinecrest) and Elyria Hackney (Lee County) were AC Sandhills teammates and among those that opposed each other in high school.

Charlotte Herring (Whiteville) and Sarah Faulk (South Columbus) were also high school opponents and club teammates. The other members of the team are: Adison Campbell (South Stanley), Christen Clontz (Gray Stone Day), Morrigan Denman (Seventy-First) and Willow Williams (Southern Alamance).

"We're all here to work hard and especially work together," says Lowe, a setter. "Since we're all new the big thing is to get to know each other and build a chemistry. We've been bonding pretty well. We've had sleepovers at apartments and we go out to eat together. It's been wonderful."

Also a setter, Campbell earned all-conference honors in volleyball and softball in high school. She was nipped for first place in the one-mile run on Thursday by Sencenbaugh. As a member of club teams in both sports, not being familiar with her teammates at the start is not a new experience.

"This is really exciting," she said. "We're rebuilding and we have to try to be leaders because there is nobody here that was before us. Since we're coming from different places there are really no cliques and we're all in the same boat with the same goals."

The preseason schedule includes an alumni game at 11 a.m. this Saturday and a home scrimmage against the St. Andrews varsity a week later. Classes begin on August 19.

A challenging early schedule officially begins with a home match against Johnson and Wales on August 22 and includes a meeting with Owens CC, the 2018 NJCAA Division III national champion, at a tournament in Perrysburg, Ohio over Labor Day weekend.

Helping provide a favorable coach to player ratio in the preseason are returning assistant coaches Kristin Hylton and Jacob Marley, student assistant Jordan Ward and Tee-Ashia Lilly from last year's squad, Wendy McCormick and Lindsay McManamon. Lilly will leave soon to begin practices as a member of the team at Fayetteville State. Stefanie Turner returns as the athletic trainer. 

"Last year was unique because we had so many returning," said Riggan who is in her 11th years as the Flyers' coach. "The preseason went the fastest I can remember as far as being able to spend more time with play-like drills. Yesterday we didn't get a lot of touches, but coming out of the gate today is exciting for the girls and the coaches.

"Preseason is hard, but it's an opportunity to really focus on volleyball before school starts. It's still early, but I've been around them a lot. I think I'm a pretty good judge of character and I'm blown away by how eager they are. We're urging them to be good teammates and I think this is a good core group."

C. Bergmann