The North Surry volleyball team didn’t have a single senior on its roster last season, but coach Shane Slate will be spoiled with experience and talent during 2016.
Six seniors and four juniors with extended varsity playing time return this year as the Lady Hounds have their sights set on some lofty expectations. Since entering the Western Piedmont Athletic Conference in 2013, North Surry has won a league championship every year as a part of a seven-year streak overall.
However, North Surry wants to get back to its state championship pedigree established in 2009 and again in 2012. If the Lady Hounds are going to reach those trophy-hoisting heights, Slate believes it will all come down to their commitment to consistency.
“As a young team last year, we had a problem with being a little too inconsistent at times,” Slate said. “I think the key for us is everyone has to collectively take care of their individual responsibilities, every point. Of course we’re an older team now and we believe we can do that, so we also believe we can have an exceptional year.”
Last year’s Lady Hounds went 21-8, 10-0 and advanced to the third round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs before bowing out to Hendersonville in a 3-1 defeat. North Surry started slow, but went 15-2 over its final 17 matches.
“I think the experience should help us avoid the big learning curve we went through last year,” Slate said. “Obviously, we still have to some stuff we need to work out to make sure all of the pieces fit, but right now we’re a little further along.”
Youth and injuries contributed to the 6-6 start, as middle hitter Mikaela Johnson missed significant time and outside hitter Martha Holt missed the entire season due to a knee injury. Both rising juniors are back in the fold this season, and Coach Slate believes Holt will bring an added element to the offense in 2016.
“Martha had a really good summer, and she contributes through her skill and understanding of the game. She’s a very smart player,” Slate said.
Outside hitter Paige Sizemore will join Johnson and Holt at the net to form the fulcrum of the North Surry offense. Sizemore (171 kills) and Johnson (156) were second and third on the team in kills.
The one significant loss for North Surry is the departure of middle hitter Tyra Galloway, who transferred to Mount Airy for the upcoming school year. Galloway admirably stepped up in the absence of Johnson last season, but it will be up to senior Kaylee Freed and junior Myia West to provide quality hits out of the backup middle hitter spot this year.
Also playing a role in North Surry’s attack will be seniors Whitney Hall, Arin Bunker and Anna Martin. Slate believes that Hall might be the most explosive player on the team.
North Surry’s head coach also predicts the Greyhounds will be a significantly better passing team in 2016, and that all starts with the stellar play of libero Maggie Hawks and setter Dixie Fulk.
Hawks was the heartbeat of North Surry’s defense in 2015 with 408 digs. The rising senior also provided an offensive weapon with her serve, recording a team-high 66 aces.
Dixie Fulk, the third returning all-conference selection from 2015 along with Hawks and Johnson, dished out 750 assists last season, as the Lady Hound offense ran through her ability to set up open teammates. Slate believes an even bigger year could be on the horizon for the rising junior.
“Dixie has gotten better by just being in the system,” he said. “This will be her second year as the varsity setter, and she continues to get more comfortable within our offense and continues to develop that sense of where everyone is on the floor.”
North Surry will be put to the test right away as the Lady Hounds once again open the season with a grueling schedule. They kick things off with a pair of matches against 4A schools in the first week, home against West Forsyth on Aug. 15 and at Watauga on Aug. 18.
North Surry Varsity Volleyball Roster
2 Dixie Fulk S Jr. 5-7
4 Whitney Hall OH, OPP, MH Sr. 5-8
5 Cidney Fulk DS Sr. 5-6
6 Anna Martin OH Sr. 5-7
7 Mikaela Johnson MH Jr. 6-0
8 Arin Bunker OH, OPP Sr. 5-8
9 Kaylee Freed MH, OPP Sr. 5-9
10 Paige Sizemore OH, OPP Jr. 5-9
13 Martha Holt OPP, MH Jr. 6-0
21 Maggie Hawks L Sr. 5-5
Karlie Marion DS Jr. 5-5
Myia West MH Jr. 5-7
Reach Jackson at 415-4702 and on twitter @jacksonfuller16