DOBSON — Brittany Tolbert’s volleyball journey has now come full circle. The 2010 graduate of Surry Central High School enters her first season as the Lady Eagles’ head coach this week.
“It’s nice and nerve-racking,” Tolbert said. “I feel like we have a lot of good pieces, and as the new head coach, I’m trying to put the pieces together.”
Tolbert has been involved with the sport constantly since leaving Dobson eight years ago. Following her high school graduation, Tolbert played collegiate volleyball for Newberry College. The Wolves compete in the NCAA Division II South Atlantic Conference. After college, she served as an assistant coach at Surry Community College and in Junior Olympic volleyball for three years.
“I feel good, we have so many good pieces,” Tolbert said. “We’re a little junior-heavy. But our juniors, in general, are really informed. I couldn’t ask for a better team for my first year as a head coach.”
The 2018 varsity team consists three seniors, seven juniors, one sophomore, and a freshman. The returning seniors for the Eagles are Emma Garland, Jenna Simpson, and Tara Blevins. Garland is returning for her second season on the varsity team, while Simpson and Blevins are both entering their third year on the squad.
Being a young team, Tolbert said she relies on her seniors to help lead the team, and that so far they’ve accepted the challenge.
“They have definitely stepped up as leaders,” Tolbert said. “Tara (Blevins) has stepped up to be the biggest leader at this point. She’s taken that senior role and ran with it, whether it be on the court or on the sidelines.
Tolbert continued, “Jenna (Simpson), she’s a power hitter and has been putting balls away. She was sick at the beginning of the summer, so it’s nice to have her back. Emma Garland has got a bubbly personality that lifts everyone up.”
On the court, Simpson finished third on the team last season in kills (100), second in hitting average (.265), first in ace percentage (23.5), and second in total blocks (66). Blevins enters this season after finishing fourth in attacks (332) and fifth in kills (79) last season, having to split reps at outside hitter. Garland served as a defensive specialist last season behind then-senior setter Brooke Snow. She still managed 219 serve receptions and 109 digs.
There are also two returning juniors that had a great impact on the Eagles’ team last season. Both Abigail Johnson and Madison Goins had significant reps in 2017 and are projected by Tolbert to have important roles in the upcoming season.
“Madison Goins, one of our setters, is very vocal on the court, which is what we need,” Tolbert said. “She runs the front row like its her business. Abigail Johnson is all over the floor. She’s not as loud as Madison, but she is the leader of the back row.”
Newcomers to the varsity team include juniors Ashley Hall, Grace Hodges, Gracie Brindle, Jordyn Coe, and Mylah Brettl, along with sophomore Chelsey Atkins and freshman Mia McMillen.
The Lady Eagles’ 6-6 conference record last season put them fourth in the seven-team conference. Tolbert said it is one of her personal goals to finish in the top three. Other than that, she doesn’t want last season to be on the minds of her players. Tolbert came in with a clean slate, stating that she didn’t want to know about last season’s players and personalities.
Not only does Tolbert want to develop a winning team, but it is equally if not more important to her that she develops winners on and off the court.
“I want to make them better people and players and not focus on what we get accomplished as a team, but what each girl can do to contribute and make them better people,” Tolbert said.
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