The adventure begins for a Sandhills Community College volleyball team that opens the regular season Thursday with a 6 p.m. match at the Hangar against Johnson and Wales of Charlotte. The Lady Flyers are back at it in a 5 p.m. home date against Guilford Tech Friday.
Coach Alicia Riggan's squad is made up of 12 freshmen and a sophomore transfer. They all picked up valuable experience during three hours of scrimmaging last Saturday against a St. Andrews University varsity squad that is ranked No. 6 out of 15 teams in the Appalachian Athletic Conference Preseason Coaches Poll and a perennially strong NJCAA Division II Surry Community College team.
A four-year college that is a member of the United States Collegiate Athletic Association, Johnson and Wales was the USCAA Division II national champion a year ago. The Flyers defeated the Wildcats at home last October after losing a pair of five-set matches the year before.
"I think that especially with all of the girls being new they're doing a great job of supporting each other and jelling together," Riggan said during a practice early Monday morning that also marked the first day of classes. "They get excited about each others' successes which is what every coach dreams about.
"We had three great programs in here on Saturday, including ours, and got in a lot of touches and a lot of reps."
Beginning her 11th season as the Lady Flyers' head coach, Riggan's teams have compiled a record of 195-85. All of the players that were a part of two teams that posted a two-year record of 51-11, including a 19-match winning streak last year, have moved on.
This year's team, that is one of Riggan’s tallest, includes 6-foot-1 Carley Modlin (Pinecrest), 6-0 Khaile Jones (Purnell Swett) and 5-11 Alexus McCrimmon (North Moore) as the middle hitters.
"Carley is very mobile for her size and she can do it all which is very rare for a middle hitter," the coach says. "Her wing span is really impressive. As we saw on Saturday, when we get her a good set, it's not coming back up."
"Alex and Khaile are stepping up too. It's good to have three tall middles."
Morrigan Denman (Seventy-First), another strong all-around player, leads a group of heavy-handed outside hitters that includes 5-7 Elyria Hackney (Lee County), 5-10 Sarah Faulk (South Columbus) and 5-8 Christen Clontz (Gray Stone Day).
"Morrigan also has an aggressive serve and is mentally and physically one of the toughest players I've ever coached," Riggan said. "Elyria is another one with a heavy hand and they are all going to have an impact."
Riggan plans to deploy both of the setters, 5-8 Camryn Lowe (North Moore) and 5-7 Adison Campbell (South Stanly), in a 6-2 rotation. The defensive specialists are 5-4 Charlotte Herring (Whiteville), 5-4 Mya Sencenbaugh (Purnell Swett) and 5-5 Pfeiffer University transfer Stephanie Pages.
The libero is 5-3 Willow Williams (Southern Alamance) who covers a lot of ground in the back and remained on the court almost the entire time Saturday.
A challenging early season schedule includes a match at Davidson County CC next Wednesday in between a trip for multiple matches this weekend in Petersburg, Va., and a 600-mile Labor Day weekend journey to Perrysburg, Ohio, where one of the four matches will be against Owens CC, the 2018 NJCAA Division III National Champion.
"I want us to play the best," Riggan said. "I want to get better every single time.
"We saw glimpses of them looking really awesome on Saturday. We saw glimpses of things we need to work on, but I'm very pleased with where we are this early in the season."
The Flyers have won their last 20 matches in a Region X conference that includes Central Carolina, Patrick Henry, Southwest Virginia and Vance Granville. This year's Region X champion will host the district tournament that will send both the winner and runner-up to the national championship event in Rochester, Minn., in November.
Assisting Riggan in the coaching department are returnees Kristin Hylton and Jacob Marley, student assistant Jordan Ward and Lindsay McManamon.