The Mount Airy Lady Bears have participated in numerous team camps, scrimmages, and a flurry of two-a-days in anticipation of the 2018 volleyball season. Now that summer vacation has come and gone in typical lightning-fast fashion, the Bears are ready to get back on the court and compete.
“We go pretty hard during the summer and get out and scrimmage a lot of teams, but I think our girls are ready to go out there and see the numbers on the scoreboard,” said head coach Chuck Morris.
Morris has been to the state playoffs in each of his five seasons as Mount Airy’s head volleyball coach, and he expects that trend to continue in the 2018 season. However, this team faces the challenge ahead without a number of familiar faces from years past. Arry Ward, the team’s leading blocker; Kayla Hicks, the team leader in digs; and Madeline Mayfield, the team’s leading attacker and 2017 Northwest 1A Conference Co-Player of the Year, all graduated from Mount Airy High just two months ago.
Stepping into leadership roles are four rising seniors: Meredith Cox, Hanne Cooke, Piper Draughon, and Hannah Williams. All four girls are entering their third year as varsity players.
“They all four contribute in different ways to keeping our team culture alive,” Morris said. “It’s kind of a new role for them, considering some of last years seniors were there for four years.”
Draughon, an outside hitter, finished the 2017 season as the third-leading attacker behind Mayfield and Ward. Draughon had 106 kills, 341 attacks, and a kill percentage of 31.1. Williams, also an OH, finished with 84 kills, 276 attacks, and a 30.4 kill percentage. Cooke spent most of last season as a middle hitter and second on the team and third in the Northwest Conference with 59 total blocks.
Meredith Cox spent the 2017 season as a defensive specialist beside Hicks. Meredith had decent assisting and dig numbers, but those will surely increase this season as she becomes the primary setter. Morris’ plan was to run a 6-2 rotation, using two setters and six offensive weapons. That plan had to be altered to a 5-1 rotation for the time being due to an injury to the other proposed setter, sophomore Avery Cox. Avery finished last season with third in assists and fifth in aces in the conference.
“Because we’re small, that’s the way we have to play,” Morris said. “We are spreading the offense around a little bit more this year. We’re going to have to be smart and go with everyone and be generous with how we share the ball. We won’t have someone getting 400 attacks likely, but can have three or four kids hit in the high 250s, 260s, or 270s.”
Filling out the Lady Bears’ roster are juniors Elizabeth Heck, Kalie Mabe, Meredith Hensley, and sophomores Brooke Lankford, Bailey Sizemore, and Elizabeth Dorsett. Just one girl on the team measures taller than 5-foot-8, and the average height on the team is just under 5-foot-7.
“Defensively, we are getting a little bit better,” Morris said. “We’ve known going into the season that we’re going in small, so we may have a bit of trouble with big, tall teams. If you’re blocking game isn’t there, you better have good defense.”
Mount Airy spent months preparing for the season. According to Morris, there is no better way to test where you are than to get out on the court and compete. Tough matches against against North Surry, Alleghany, and Surry Central await the Lady Bears in the first few weeks of the season.
“I’d like to see our win percent in non-conference be a lot higher than it was last year,” Morris said. “I’d like to see us win 80 percent of our non-conference matches.”
The Bears open the season on August 13 at Elkin.
Reach Cory on Twitter @MrCoryLeeSmith