ROCKINGHAM — The Lady Raiders are one of the most experienced volleyball teams in the Sandhills Athletic Conference. And they’re hoping that maturity will lead the program to another successful season on the court.
Richmond returns all but one starter from the squad that won the conference championship a season ago.
The four seniors who were members of last year’s starting core (Brianna Baysek, Owen Bowers, Altman Griffin and Mackenzie Webb) will be counted on to help the team repeat what it did last season — which included going 10-0 in conference play and beating Pinecrest for the first time in seven years.
“That experience is really important. They’ve meshed well together and it has already shown in practice,” head coach Shellie Wimpey said. “They know what each other can do…and they have better communication because of it.”
Wimpey, the reigning conference Coach of the Year, says Griffin and Webb have brought a new sense of leadership to the team due to their time playing with a “good club team” this past year. They both have an understanding of what it takes to be successful on the varsity level and can use that knowledge to help the three girls who were brought up from the JV team.
Junior Savannah Chappell and sophomores Jadyn Johnson and Alexis Swiney are entering their first season on the varsity stage. And they’ll be tasked with filling in (on the right side) for Trinity Stanley, who would’ve been among this year’s senior class but ultimately decided to step away from volleyball to focus on school.
“They’re going to have to step up and take her position, which they’ve done a really good job at in practice,” Wimpey added.
The Lady Raiders have dedicated a lot of time to learning a new serve-receive system due to their struggles of the past. They hope their new way of playing opponents’ serves will eliminate any confusion during matches.
Richmond’s also been working hard to get better at blocking. Wimpey stressed the importance of being able to block once they reach the postseason and face bigger teams — particularly teams from the Charlotte area like Mallard Creek, who blanked Richmond 3-0 in second round of the 2016 playoffs thanks to the power of its 6-foot, 2-inch junior Skyy Howard.
“They’ve usually got good hitters and tall girls, and we’re going to have to be able to block them,” she said of Charlotte teams. “So we work on that every day and hopefully it’ll play off at the end.”
Before her team looks to make a deep playoff push, however, Wimpey wants to accomplish the main goal this season: going undefeated in conference for the second consecutive year.
She’s aware that the Lady Raiders have a target on their backs because of last year’s success, but believes her group can pull off the repeat — despite the NCHSAA adding two more teams (Jack Britt, Seventy-First) to the conference.
Griffin was named conference Player of the Year last season after leading the team in digs (292), kills (280) and aces (54). Baysek finished third on the team in kills (127), Bowers led the team in total blocks (102), Webb was No. 1 in assists (497) and Savannah Lampley was second in digs (276).
All five of were 2016 all-conference selections.
“The main goal is to go undefeated in conference, again, and we would like to have a little better record. There were some games that we shouldn’t have lost,” Wimpey said. “We’re going to have to step up and play every game the best we can.”
Richmond will start the journey to a better record and another conference championship next Tuesday, Aug. 15, when it travels to South Stanly. The team won’t have its first home match until it hosts Purnell Swett on Thursday, Aug. 24.
Reach sports editor Leon Hargrove Jr. at 910-817-2673 and follow the sports section on Twitter @RCDailySports.
Brianna Baysek, left, glides towards the ball as Savannah Lampley and Amia Pemberton, far right, prepares for a block during an early morning practice on Friday. Richmond’s volleyball team is looking to repeat as the undefeated conference champions and make it past the second round of the state playoffs this season.