PEMBROKE —All six of the Robeson County high school volleyball teams got their first look of their teams against in-game competition at the Robeson County volleyball jamboree hosted at Purnell Swett on Saturday.
For Fairmont coach Michael Baker, the scrimmages are about getting the experience and trying out new things for his team that has a new starting lineup this season.
“It’s always good when you get a chance to practice against somebody,” Baker said. “Here’s a chance for us to try new things and not get penalized for it.”
The Golden Tornadoes went 19-3 last season and earned a berth in the second round of the NCHSAA 2A state playoffs, but the six starting seniors from last season graduated, ushering in a brand new lineup this season.
“We lost six starters so we’re starting new,” Baker said. “We’re learning a new system that we put in.”
Sophomore MacKenzie Johnson will start at setter for Fairmont that has two seniors, Niya Graham and Brittany Hunt, who also have the only playing time on varsity last season of all the players on this years’ roster.
“Those two girls are basically our leaders,” Baker said.
With a roster full of youth and inexperience, Baker does see something that stands out about his team.
“We’re a little bit more athletic than we were last year,” he said. “We lack a little bit of the experience. … Once that experience gains up with our athleticism, we should be all right.”
With three seasons with single-digit losses, it is all about continuing the tradition with a team of new players.
“You try to keep that winning tradition going,” Baker said. “You try to stress to the girls how important it is to keep that going.”
South Robeson went 6-13 last season and lost five seniors and the scrimmages came as a way to work in new players and figure out the rotation.
“It gives them time to work out kinks,” South Robeson coach Donnie Carter said. “We’ve got a bunch of new players in different spots.
“It’s a nice warmup. I’m glad the county started something like this.”
Four seniors are leading the way for the Lady Mustangs, but there also has been leaders who come from underclassmen stepping up.
Seniors Halei Chavis and Amber Johnson and junior Destiny Strickland have established themselves as veteran leaders, but freshmen Haliy Werrell and Tehya Bullard, sophomore Kyla Locklear along the back line are stepping up with their play to lead the team.
“Our ninth and tenth graders are really team leaders,” Carter said. “Our younger girls look up to them, but that doesn’t take away from the leadership that older group has, it just helps that those players are willing to lead.”
Lumberton coach Tre’ Britt said that the preseason games allow his team to continue to gel together and also to showcase some of the top female athletes in Robeson County.
“It benefits us by giving us reps,” Britt said. “It’s good for the county as well to see what everybody has got.”
Coming off a 5-18 season last year, the Lady Pirates are hoping this season is the beginning of a bright future for the program.
“We’ve got a lot of junior standout athletes that are going to be good athletes for us,” Britt said. “Volleyball has a bright future for Lumberton, not just this year, but the following years after that.”
Juniors London Thompson and Destiny Hardin lead a list of hitters up front for Lumberton that also includes sophomore Madison Canady. Senior Lindsay Bridgeman will start at libero for the season for a team that has a lot of good chemistry on its side.
“If you can get them to get along and gel together on the court it makes things much better,” Britt said. “This group has got a good core of senior leaders that makes the team successful.”
With five wins last season, the goal has been risen for the Lady Pirates this fall.
“We already set a team goal of having 15 wins this year,” Britt said.
Seeing some of its competition early before conference play starts along with playing teams from much larger schools is what Red Springs looked to get out of the scrimmages.
“It give us an outlook on some of the teams in the county we will be playing,” Red Springs coach Nicole Strickland said. “It gives the girls a chance to play against different levels like the 4A schools, and it gives them extra practice.”
After a 4-11 season last year, a better finish is what is expected by Strickland.
“I have high hopes going into this season,” she said. “I’m looking to place in the conference and go to the playoffs.”
Seniors Sanastasia Powell along with Kelsey and Kyria Locklear lead a confident team into this season. Powell is the top hitter for the Lady Red Devils and Kelsey will handle the setting duties with Kyria at libero.
“Last season, I feel the girls weren’t as confident as they do this season,” Strickland said. “They’ve learned from their mistakes from last year and they’ve seen where they were so now they have more self confidence in themselves.
“The strength to my team is the experience that my three seniors have going into this season.”
Working on it’s hustle and in-game experience was a point of emphasis for St. Pauls in the exhibitions with it entering the season with first-year head coach Jory Barnes.
“Us getting to scrimmage and play five games back-to-back, they get their hustle work on and they get to see teams that we normally play,” Barnes said.
St. Pauls finished 3-17 last season and with a senior-laden team coming into this year. The experience is something that the Lady Bulldogs will lean on this season.
“I’ve got six seniors that will be graduating this year so that’s a lot of experience on the team,” Barnes said. “The past few years we haven’t had an even (.500) season, but I’m hoping that it’s going to be a good season for us.”
Seniors Cheyenne Brock and Alayna Ivey will lead the team with their all-around play going into this season. Ivey will set a team that Barnes said is eager to hit the ball.
“They will hit the ball from anywhere, they will run each over to hit the ball, they are hungry to hit,” Barnes said.
With that hunger to hit, St. Pauls will work on some of its weaknesses to try and set up potential kill opportunities this season.
“Last year, we had a lot of problems with our services and passes,” Barnes said. “This year, we are focusing on our servicing.”
A young and injury-battered Purnell Swett team used the scrimmages to give itself experience ahead of the season starting next week.
“This definitely is going to help us prepare for next weekend and the tournament at UNCP,” Purnell Swett coach Courtney Hill said.
Last year, Purnell Swett worked around not having its home gym while the floor was being repaired and finished 1-19 overall.
“Honestly, we can only go up,” Hill said. “Last year was a struggle because we didn’t have our gym and that put a big damper on the season.”
The Lady Rams go into this season with several seniors, but with a host of underclassmen as well.
“We’re pretty young,” Hill said, “but we’ve got a lot of energy and some great leadership from our seniors. That will definitely play a big role into this season.”
Seniors Alaiya Feliciano and Alana Locklear along with underclassmen Alisha Freeman and Dymon McPherson are players Hill expects to take lead of the team this season.
With the mix of youth and experience, Purnell Swett prepares to tackle the a tough conference slate.
“I think we will be competitive and hang with the teams in our conference,” Hill said. “I know our conference is really strong.”
Jonathan Bym can be reached at 910-816-1977. Follow him on Twitter @Jonathan_Bym.