Crouch, O’Connor anchors for volleyball

Published 3:21 pm Tuesday, August 8, 2023

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By Brian Pitts

Enterprise Record

Davie’s varsity volleyball team may not have enough juice to dethrone Reagan in the Central Piedmont Conference – the Raiders went 14-0 on the way to first place last year, and they’re just as scary on paper in 2023 – but the War Eagles can absolutely challenge for a top-two finish.

Last year Davie went 12-10 overall and 9-5 in the CPC to finish tied for third. It marked the eighth straight winning season under coach Amber Brandon, but it was the first so-so season for the program’s all-time winningest coach. Davie had finished first or second each of the previous five seasons.

The War Eagles averaged 19.8 victories in six full seasons from 2015-22. Can they return to somewhere around that level in 2023? Maybe. Maybe not.

“If we’re playing really well, I think we can play with the best of them,” Brandon said. “We haven’t scrimmaged anybody except ourselves yet, so it’s hard to tell.”

Brandon is sure about this: She has an immensely talented middle in Carly Crouch. The 6-foot sophomore has the potential to be the star of the show from now through 2025.

“Carly probably had the biggest offseason,” Brandon said. “She had to figure things out (as a varsity freshman). At the end of the season, she was playing at a much higher level. She played competitive club ball and she looks like a different player. She’s just a sophomore, but she looks like a seasoned veteran. She moves side to side really well for her size. We’re building our offense around her.”

The coach couldn’t be more excited about her setter. Senior Lauren O’Connor not only possesses incredible quickness, she is so smart that Siri will ask her questions.

“She was sitting behind Emma Hayes (the setter the past four years), so it’s her time to take over and run the show,” Brandon said. “She had a really good offseason – she put a lot of time in. She looks really, really good at practice. She is probably the quickest kid I have ever coached. She gets to balls that she has no business being able to pick up. The second thing about Lauren is she’s really creative. She runs a creative offense. She’s super smart, she’s ranked No. 1 in her class and that translates onto the volleyball court. She makes great decisions on the fly.”

Players like Emma Willard, Mikaylah Hutton, Malia Privett, Addison Wilson and Caroline Lakey are primed to be key contributors.

“Emma will most likely be in the libero jersey,” Brandon said. “She’s also really, really quick. I think we’re going to play a lot faster game than people are used to in the past.

“Of our starting six and the seven or eight kids that get into the rotation, all of them played really high level travel ball. Mikaylah and Malia played on my travel team. Emma played competitive travel ball. Addison had a really good travel season. Caroline really committed to a strength-and-conditioning program, and she had a great spring in the sand for us. She’s playing at a really high level right now.”

Last year East Forsyth finished two games behind Reagan at 12-2, while Davie and West Forsyth tied for third at 9-5. Reagan, of course, is the prohibitive favorite to repeat as champion, but there are way too many positives around Davie to dismiss the War Eagles’ chances of contending for at least runner-up.

“Reagan should be just as good, if not better, than they were last year,” Brandon said. “West has some really good pieces. They’ve got three super talented freshmen. I anticipate all three being on varsity as freshmen. East Forsyth still has Kinnady Boothe, who can take over and change a game.”

Notes: Brandon enters her ninth year with a 140-54 record. … While Marnic Lewis and JV coach Tabatha Lyons are back as assistants, a familiar face has joined the coaching staff in Morgan Flores, who starred at Davie before playing in college at Appalachian State. “She was a part of my first freshman class,” Brandon said. “She was part of a group that bought into building the volleyball program and the culture into what I wanted it to be. It’s special that she wanted to come back as soon as she graduated and get back involved in the program.”

Junior Varsity

Davie’s JV might take its lumps early, but Brandon has grand visions for a huge freshman class.

“It’s the biggest freshman class since I’ve been at Davie,” she said. “I took two freshmen on varsity and there are 12 of them on JV. It’s a huge adjustment from middle school to high school, but we are super excited about what they bring and what the future could be. It might take them a little while to get it figured out, but I expect them to be rocking and rolling by the end of the season.”

If it takes some time for the newcomers to get acclimated, the JV can lean on sophomores Mia Clemo, Lanah Kruger, Callie Jenkins and MacKenzie Burrows.

“It’ll be beneficial for them to have two sophomores setters (Clemo and Kruger),” Brandon said. “It’s always beneficial to have a middle as a returner (like Burrows) because it’s such a dynamic position.

“Callie had a really good freshman year last year. She learned a lot. She had a really good offseason. She really worked hard, made some adjustments. She’s right there on the brink of really figuring it out. Once she does, she could be something really special.”

The JV went 9-5 in Lyons’ first year at Davie in 2022.