War Eagles volleyball has the players to remain in contention

Published 10:46 am Wednesday, August 10, 2022

By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Seven members graduated from last year’s Davie varsity volleyball team, including key contributors like Abigail Reynolds, Aimee Loj, Ali Angell, Kimball Little and Peyton Justice.

But the cupboard is not bare.

The War Eagles are coming off a 22-5 season that saw them tie for first in the Central Piedmont Conference, and eighth-year coach Amber Brandon has plenty of girls capable of keeping them at or near the top of the conference.

“We can surprise some people,” Brandon said. “A lot of people are probably thinking about how many we graduated and not necessarily what was behind them. We graduated some really big pieces, but we’ve got some big pieces from last year’s team returning.”

Brandon considered Loj and Kiah Mathis the finest pair of middles in the CPC a year ago. She thinks the same could be true in 2022 between Mathis and Gracie Wilson. Both are seniors.

“I feel really good about that again this season,” she said. “Gracie had a great season in club. She worked really hard in the offseason and is playing a great game right now. So she’ll fill that role of Aimee as middle two.”

Davie has five seniors, including Emma Hayes, Emily Garner and Camden Hurst.

“Emma was the primary setter last year on varsity,” she said. “She’s been on varsity since she was a freshman. She’s playing confident and is setting a really good game right now. She could have a special season.

“Emily was one of the captains last year. She is one of the most competitive kids I know, and you always want those kids in the gym with you. She’s going to go 100 percent after every ball. She’s never going to give up on a play. She’s always going to be talking. She’s always going to do exactly what you ask her to do.

“For the past three years, Camden battled injury after injury. I’m really excited about her. She had a really good club year. She jumps really, really well and has a high reach.”

Davie has six juniors in Hailey Johnson, Lauren O’Connor, Mikaylah Hutton, Caroline Lakey, Malia Privett and Taylor Smith. The only sophomore is Emma Willard.

“Hailey and Emma Willard both worked hard in the offseason and played a really competitive club schedule,” she said. “I’m super excited about them. We went to Surry Community College to play in a summer scrimmage and Willard had a phenomenal night. I’m excited about her development.

“Lauren was the leader of the JV the last two years. She is a really good defender, so we might use her as a defensive specialist.

“(Hutton) is a big piece returning. Caroline is one of the most polished ball-control kids. She will fill some of the shoes in ball control that we had with Kimball and Peyton.

“Malia had a breakout season last year on JV. She grew a lot. She has what I call a heavy arm. She hits the ball really hard. She also provides a good block. We have the potential to be a really good blocking team.

“Taylor has had a major knee injury going on for the last year. She’s working through PT (physical therapy) right now. We’re hoping we get her back as soon as possible. She’s a defensive specialist that can help us shore up our ball control.”

Carly Crouch, the only freshman, is skilled enough that she has made an overnight jump from middle school to varsity.

“She is 6-1, pushing 6-2,” Brandon said. “She’s super athletic and has a knack for the game. She picks up on the game really quick. She’s one of those kids that you just have to show her something one time and she can do it. I think midway through the season she will be able to help us in the middle role and free up Kiah and Gracie to be more flexible and swing at places other than just middle.”

When you add everything up from 13 girls, it looks like the War Eagles could end up in their customary spot in the top two of the CPC. Last year they shared first with West Forsyth, one win ahead of Reagan. Over the last five years they’ve finished second, tied for first, second, second, tied for first.

Davie beat South Mecklenburg and South Iredell and advanced to the third round of the 4-A playoffs, the run ending at Ardrey Kell.

Reagan had claimed the league 12 of 14 years before getting edged by Davie and West in 2021. But the Raiders are the odds-on favorite this fall. In fact, they could be a brutally tough opponent.

“Reagan probably has the most coming back,” Brandon said. “Reagan did not graduate any major pieces. The obvious favorite would probably have to be Reagan just because they’re going to be super experienced. They’re probably going to have nine or 10 seniors.”

West could take step back after losing Clara LaRue. East Forsyth lost a horse in Kadynce Booth, but the Eagles aren’t necessarily going away thanks to a heralded freshman class.

“I think West is going to be a little bit down because Clara was a huge piece for them for so long,” Brandon said. “East has a couple of really good freshmen coming in. Kadynce was a big piece for them, but they’re going to be like a sleeper team. They could shock some people.”

And then there’s the War Eagles, who have become a proud program. They have put together seven winning seasons under Brandon – and nothing remotely close to a losing record – and they have the goods to be in the hunt again.

“I think we can be really competitive,” said Brandon, who is 128-44 since taking over the program in 2015. “I think it’s going to be a really good conference. Anybody can beat anybody if you have an off game. That’s one thing that makes the CPC so fun.”