Volleyball could do big things again

Published 9:20 am Thursday, August 9, 2018

Davie’s volleyball team has to replace one of the greatest players in program history in Tyra Galloway, a 6-1 front-row terror who is now playing for the Charlotte 49ers.

Davie is also dealing with an unexpected loss. Kayla Moore was a varsity starter as a sophomore and a rising star. But she’s out for the entire year with a knee injury.

“Tyra’s (graduation) was a blow we were ready for,” coach Amber Brandon said. “It’s going to take more than one person to fill those shoes. The unexpected blow was Kayla. (Galloway and Moore) was about 80-85 percent of our offense last year.”

The War Eagles became the winningest team in their 41-year history in 2017, going 23-5. They finished second in the Central Piedmont Conference to Reagan, which has finished first the past eight years. Maxpreps.com ranked Reagan No. 1 and Davie No. 2 in 4-A, and the Raiders ended Davie’s historic ride in the third round. Four of Davie’s five defeats came at the hands of the Raiders, and three of those went five sets.

It might be a stretch for Davie to reach 23 victories again – Brandon doesn’t schedule cupcakes in nonconference – but it’s not impossible. Despite the losses of Galloway and Moore, Davie isn’t starved for experienced talent.

Lauren Grooms is a fourth-year varsity starter at setter. Fellow seniors Cara Terry, Morgan Flores, Emma Slabach and Abby Wilkins are third-year varsity players.

Combine the returning talent with a coach who has guided Davie to 58-22 overall and 24-10 in the CPC and you have a robust program. Davie has finished third, third and second in the league under Brandon. To put her success in perspective, the three teams  (2012-14) prior to her arrival went 33-37 overall, 16-18 in the CPC and finished fourth, fourth and tied for fourth.

“It’s a group that I’m extremely close with,” said Brandon, who became the varsity coach when the five current seniors were freshmen. “While I’m expecting big things, it is going to be a little different team and a little different style of volleyball than last year. They’ve been a huge part of growing it and shaping it into the kind of program that I wanted it to be. They’re a fun group to watch.”

Then: “It’s going to be a lot of team volleyball. There are probably going to be longer rallies. The kids know we’re probably going to look at four- and five-set matches.”

In Grooms (setter) and Flores (libero), Davie has two of the top players in the area at their positions. Grooms has committed to Coker, a Division-II school in South Carolina. Flores is going to be an Appalachian State Mountaineer.

“Lauren is playing at a real high level right now,” Brandon said. “Morgan is playing really well right now.”

Slabach, junior Zoey Clark (varsity returner), Wilkins and Terry  are major parts of Davie’s ‘18 plans. Slabach has every possible tool she could need in her arsenal.

“Emma will be huge for us,” Brandon said. “She is probably the most well-rounded kid in our program. She can really do any aspect of the game well. She plays six rotations and has a huge role on the front row and back row. She’s also one of the strongest senior leaders. She has an athlete’s blood. She pushes teammates to work hard. There’s no plays off.

“Zoey played front row on the outside with Kayla last year. She’s having to step up and fill that role. She’s playing really well.

“Abby had a great club season. Abby’s skill has always been there. Now her confidence has grown. Her and Lauren are clicking right now.

“Cara has always been consistent. She knows the game so well. She does a great job of doing her job all the time.”

Brandon expects junior Dakota Hutchins to be a key contributor. “She is having to fill some of the void that Kayla left,” she said. “She’ll be huge in the backcourt again. Her and Emma are similar in that they have a lot of responsibilities.”

If the War Eagles are going to end a 15-year title drought in the CPC – their last first-place finish came in 2002 – they need to overcome the Reagan dynasty for the first time. The Raiders are 22-0 against Davie. This could be the year for more history-making stuff.

“Our biggest rival graduated a lot more than we did,” she said. “I think we’re in a better position to win our conference. We scheduled a really tough nonconference schedule. We’ve got West Rowan twice, and they’ve got two of the better kids in the area. We want to be ready and feel prepared going into playoffs. When maxpreps does the strength of schedule, I’m expecting ours to be super high like it was last year.”

As far as CPC dark horses, Brandon identified West Forsyth and East Forsyth as possibilities.

“I think West has a lot of young talent,” she said. “Their underclassmen remind me of my seniors when they were freshmen. If you catch West on a really good night, I think they can be good. East has a really talented freshman. We saw last year that one kid can really change the dynamic of a team.”

Notes: Meghan Luffman and Marnic Lewis are back as varsity assistants. … Amanda Tingley handled the JV in 2016-17, but she moved out of state. … The new JV coach, Carly Pratapas, isn’t really new. Pratapas directed the jayvees to a 17-0 masterpiece in 2015.