PEMBROKE — If there’s one word to describe The University of North Carolina at Pembroke volleyball team this year, it is young.
“We have eight freshman and they are trying to adjust to the game, but they are doing pretty good so far,” coach Angie Byrd said.
Byrd isn’t upset by that, instead finding excitement in watching the younger players develop as the season approaches.
“I would say our freshman have brushed off the youth factor,” Byrd said. “They are very mature. We have a solid building foundation with this freshman class and I don’t think we will have a problem with that.”
Some of the confidence that Byrd has in her team comes from the preperation they worked on prior to the start of the regular season, which starts this weekend in Winter Park, Fla, with games against St. Cloud State, West Georgia, Southern Arkansas and Texas A&M-Kingsville.
“We’re actually going to a really good tournament to start off before we jump into our conference season with some pretty tough teams from the midwest, so hopefully that will prepare us for when we get into conference play,” Byrd said.
There have been growing pains for the team, but Byrd doesn’t think those will last, and is hopeful the team will be able to play with some of the tougher competition by season’s end.
“I think the only problem we will have is the adjustment to the quicker paced game,” she said, “but they are actually starting to catch on really well, so at least by mid or end of the season, we’ll be good to go.”
Byrd said there are three big pieces that will need to be working together for the team to do well.
“As a freshman, I would say Jada Vernon,” Byrd said. “She is going to be a huge piece for us because she is filling an outside role. Danielle Brown, who is our leading defensive specialist, as well as Nicole Mathews, she will be blessing (us with) her presence back on the court after having to sit out last year. They are going to be three big pieces.”
The team also have sophomore Sabrina Gonzalez moving to the starting setter spot.
“She was actually a hitter for us but now she is having to step in and fill the shoes of setter and she is doing a great job,” Byrd said.
The young team includes several regional standouts, including Jamee Bird, who graduated from Purnell Swett last year and former West Bladen star Mallory Davis. Sophomores and Josephine Yang are Caroline Pridgen are both Scotland High products.
Byrd can see the team coming together and she said one of its strong points comes from the unity on the court.
“I would say our upperclassmen have shown really good leadership, and our freshman have actually jumped into that leadership role as well,” Byrd said. “They are meshing really well together (and) I would say our leadership and our maturity is going to be our strength.”
Byrd said the Braves will once again be in a tough conference that saw them go 4-14 last season, but she feels they can compete with the top teams like Flagler and last year’s conference champion Armstrong State.
“If we can pull it together like I know we can, we’ll actually be tough to beat, but we will still have to maintain our composure to pretty much compete well with those teams,” she said.