The volleyball season kicked off this week for all five of Robeson County’s high school teams. The spotlight shone the sport last season in November and December, as the sport and cross country were the first two sports to return during the COVID-19 pandemic; this year, volleyball is back in its normal fall position.
St. Pauls, as the Three Rivers Conference champions, was Robeson County’s only playoff volleyball team last season. Here is an overview for each team, listed in alphabetical order, for the current season:
Fairmont Golden Tornadoes
The Fairmont volleyball roster has seven seniors with the rest of the squad being juniors, but that doesn’t mean the Golden Tornadoes (0-2) have a very experienced squad.
“It’s a younger team,” said Fairmont coach Michael Baker. “You look at the list and see all these seniors, but they are not seniors who have played in games. And these girls who are back, they only played 10 games.
Fairmont (6-4 last season, 6-3 in conference) beat all the teams that finished below them in the Three Rivers conference last season and lost to all the teams that finished in- above them. Baker is hoping that this year the Golden Tornadoes can be more competitive against the teams in the first half of the new Southeastern Athletic Conference.
“We’re going to have to have players who step up, and the seniors have to make plays,” said Baker. “You have to find a way out of this mess when they start running. “
Hinson, a senior passer, and Dajsha Fields, an outside hitter, are the team managers and the only returlers with much college experience. Baker is also looking for Zylaija McIver to be a key player as the outside hitter, and Makenzi Mitchell to provide leadership and “push” as a defensive specialist.
Pirates of Lumberton
The Lumberton Pirates (2-1 in 2021; 7-5 last season) not only started a new season this week, but also started the tenure of a new head coach, Kali Carter.
Carter, 19, comes to the Pirates program after playing high school volleyball in Kentucky and coaching two years of club volleyball.
“I have always grown up around volleyball; I’m dedicated to it, ”Carter said. “My sister still plays in high school and I was always attached to it, so I wanted to keep it going.”
Carter is tasked with replacing last year’s senior class production, including passer August Smith and outside striker Keke Lawrence.
“I’m just starting from the basics, picking up all the basics and working them from the bottom up, because you’re just going higher,” Carter said. “They just need more training, more training, to get all the skill levels they can get throughout the season.”
Away forward Peyton Brooks, libero Tyler Coker and defensive specialist Amelia Scott take on leadership roles after strong junior seasons.
“Now that they’re senior, they really have the chance to really improve,” Carter said. “I think they want to try their luck; this is their last year and they want to prove that they are here to play and that they are here to win.
Junior outside hitter Aydan Bullard and junior passer Nyiah Walker will also be key elements for the Pirates.
Purnell Swett Rams
Last year Purnell Swett struggled for a 1-12 record and lost nine senior members of that team. But with a new core group playing for the Rams comes the feeling of a fresh start.
“We had a conversation at the start of the season that it was a new season, a new team, a new conference – a chance to start over,” said Purnell Swett coach Corey Deese. “That’s what we plan to do, give it our all and keep fighting.”
But while the Rams’ college program has struggled in recent years, the JV squad – most of whom have moved on to college this season – had a very strong season last fall.
“The dynamics are really good this year; they all get along and work hard, ”Deese said. “We have five seniors and seven juniors who all played for the JV squad last year, so the dynamics of the team are really good.”
Senior passer Chloe Locklear, junior libero Bella Finelli, junior intermediate hitter Georgia Locklear and junior Farron Chavis will be key players for the Rams, who started 1-2 this week.
“(They bring) a passing ability, just the fighting,” Deese said. “They have a lot of fighting in them, don’t give up and they keep playing and doing really well with each other as well as on the pitch.”
Red Devils of Red Springs
Chemistry was the main thing missing from the Red Springs schedule (2-9 last season), coach Nicole Strickland said. This year’s edition, however, contains a lot more than previous seasons.
“This girl group ties together a little better than the group I had last time around,” Strickland said. “Their communication skills are much better, their techniques have improved over the last season that I have seen.”
The senior class of the Red Devils, who have yet to play a game, have been playing together since ninth grade, Strickland said; their “good relationship” facilitated improvement in the field.
“Having a good relationship off the pitch has helped them develop a relationship on the pitch, and it seems to go quite easily,” Strickland said. “And in terms of skills, they just got better.”
These seniors include midfield hitter Amyah Farrington, a “leader on the court by her presence,” said Strickland, who is strong both on offense and on serve; outside striker Anyla Hunt, whose strength lies in her versatility; Amari McLean, who was a libero last season but passes to the passer; and outside hitter Yanara Sanders, who is also a good waitress and blocker.
“Their ability to play with each other will be the key to success,” Strickland said.
St. Pauls was 10-3 in last year’s conference championship season. Now, as the Bulldogs (1-1) enter the new Southeastern Athletic Conference, they do so with virtually a whole new roster, a sophomore squad.
“We’ve been working on attacking the bases, attacking the bases, making them work together as a team,” said Glenda Lowery, who is replacing the head coach this season while Jory Barnes is on maternity leave. “Almost every girl on the team this year can play in more than one position. So that’s an important thing right now, is figuring out which combination is going to work.
After last year’s success, the Bulldogs know they are going to be an opponent as everyone turns their schedule around.
“When we come in, we never underestimate anyone, because some people are going to underestimate us this year because they know we’re young; some people shoot us because they know we were the conference champions last year; and we come in with every team and we approach every team like we’re playing against another conference champion team, ”Lowery said.
Second-year outside hitter Tyasia Baldwin and junior libero Saniya Baldwin are key players among the Bulldogs’ returns; Sophomore Katherin Lowery serves as the passer, replacing 2020 Robeson County Player of the Year Savanna Lowery as well as senior Halie Allen. Second-year students Alexis Carter and Keniah Baldwin and junior Julianna Bell will also be key players on the Bulldogs’ backline.