ROCKINGHAM — On Thursday, Richmond Senior High School played host to a pre-season middle school volleyball jamboree featuring all four of the Richmond County middle schools.
While it was easy to get excited about upcoming match between rivals Rockingham and Hamlet, the “leftovers” image often associated with Cordova Middle and Ellerbe Middle has waned in the last few years thanks to some varying success that the county’s smaller schools have found in their sports programs.
No success is more noticeable than the girls’ sports programs at Ellerbe Middle, the smallest school in the Southeastern Middle School Athletic Conference (SEMSAC).
At the 2022-23 athletic awards banquet in June at Ellerbe Middle School, Ellerbe principal Dr. Joseph Moree began the ceremony by pointing out that the school year both began and ended with big win by the Lady Wildcats.
Just a few weeks prior, the Ellerbe Middle softball team had won the program’s first ever conference title in the school’s final sports competition of the school year. That, along with the girls’ soccer team’s trip to the conference championship match, was the school-ending success that Dr. Moree spoke about. The school year beginning success occurred months earlier with volleyball.
The Lady Wildcats started their fall 2022 campaign with a huge come-from-behind, five-set victory over Rockingham. Ellerbe would go on to finish as the county’s top team and would advance to the conference tournament semi-finals before falling to eventual champion Anson Blue.
Unlike the other three programs participating in the jamboree, Ellerbe Middle entered the event having already played a match. The Lady Wildcats kicked off their 2023 campaign on Monday with an exciting five-set victory over Temple Christian School with set scores 25-8, 21-25, 20-25, 25-12 and 15-8.
Where Jonathan Chavez’s Lady Wildcats may have stolen the spotlight in quality, Cordova’s quantity was immediately noticed by those in attendance at Thursday’s jamboree.
It takes six players to compete in volleyball. The Lady Cavaliers had only six, sometimes seven, players at their matches last fall, meaning most of their players never left the court. However, entering the gym on Thursday, the Cordova blue jerseys were instantly noticeable as the team warmed up.
Cordova coach Nellie Harrington’s Lady Cavaliers boast a 14-member roster, doubling its size and according to Harrington, they had more than that try out. Harrington, who came out of retirement to help coach a couple of county teams, including the girls’ basketball team at Ellerbe Middle, seemed excited about what her girls may be able to accomplish this season.
While the Lady Cavaliers likely still sit as the county’s underdog, for the first time in a while, there is some excitement about the potential and trajectory of the program.
On Thursday, Ellerbe won its scrimmage with Cordova in the jamboree 3-0 (25-15, 25-8, 25-20). Like it had a season ago, the Lady Wildcats found most of its success in the serving area with eight different players recording aces and only committing 10 serving errors throughout the entire match.
Cordova found most of its success in its defensive play using several impressive digs to keep rallies alive. The Lady Cavaliers led by as many as four points in the first set and managed an eight-point run towards the end of set three with eighth grader Madison Hancock serving.
Kaylee Connor finished the day with three aces and three kills for the Lady Wildcats. Yicel Lopez and Sophia Legrand each added four aces, Grace Hill recorded three aces and a kill, Isabella Chavez had three aces, ZyRihanna Robinson scored two kills and an ace, Ella McIntyre hit two aces, Nayeli Chavez added an ace and Judah Sibley finished with a kill.
Hancock led the day for the Lady Cavaliers with six aces and a kill, Yazmin Gomez had two aces, Desira Ingram recorded an ace and Lillie Quick, Lizzie Patterson and Avery Oliver each added a kill.
The two teams will square off again at Cordova on Monday at 4 p.m. for the conference opener.