Home Local Sports SEASON PREVIEW: Depth, experience keys for Lady Raiders in 2023

SEASON PREVIEW: Depth, experience keys for Lady Raiders in 2023

Seniors Jenna Gardner and MaKailah Jackson contend for the ball at the net during Tuesday's practice. (Kyle Pillar, sports editor)

ROCKINGHAM — With the amount of returning experience this season, Ashleigh Larsen hopes the pieces will fall into the right places for the Lady Raider volleyball team.

After making the playoffs last season for the first time in three years, the sixth-year head coach believes the program is continuing to trend in the right direction.

And a lot of that belief has to do with personnel and what each player brings to the court.

During Tuesday’s practice, the Lady Raiders continued their preseason march into the new campaign, which is set to begin on Monday, Aug. 14. 

Boasting a roster of eight seniors, three juniors and two freshmen, the Lady Raiders return nine players from a season ago. Many of those nine contributed significant minutes during the playoff run.

The preseason has been a productive game of musical chairs for Richmond, as the team fine-tunes its positioning.

Last fall, Richmond recorded a 9-15 overall record and finished tied for fifth place in the Sandhills Athletic Conference with a 4-8 mark.

Depth, coupled with another year of growth, Larsen said, should give the Lady Raiders a more competitive edge.

Having only lost three seniors to graduation, there are seven returning starters back in 2023. 

They include seniors Jenna Gardner (defensive specialist), MaKailah Jackson (outside hitter), Christi Jacobs (outside hitter), Keyoni Nichols (right side hitter), Allie Rodgers (libero), Katie Way (middle hitter) and junior Ava Edmondson (setter).

Other returners are seniors Kady Harris (defensive specialist) and Addyson Hollingsworth (outside hitter). Making the jump to varsity are juniors Keelan Fisher and Abby Wellman, and newcomers include Riley McDonald and Kenley Smith.

Rodgers will bring back an All-Conference selection from her junior year, and Way was an All-SAC selection two seasons ago.

Way totaled 140 kills last season and is expected to do damage on the attack and the block at the net. Larsen also expects McDonald to play a big role at that position. Jackson, Hollingsworth, Nichols and Jacobs will be part of the front row attackers.

Richmond’s back line has been the area of the court the Lady Raiders are looking to find the right rotation. Rodgers has played the past two seasons as the starting libero, as Smith can also play that position.

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Gardner, who was an outside hitter last season, has moved to an outside slot as a defensive specialist. She is also the team’s leading server, having dished out 42 aces last season.

Edmondson will start her third season at setter and be the go-between the back row and the front line. She had nearly 400 assists as a sophomore and could pass the 1,000 assist mark of her career with another productive season.

In 2022, Pinecrest High School went a perfect 12-0 against SAC opponents. Union Pines, Lee County and Scotland high schools each posted a .500 or better conference record.

Larsen and the Lady Raiders understand the task at hand if they want to contend for the program’s first SAC championship since 2017. The goal this year is to remain competitive and get back in the conversation for a title.

Aside from its double dose of SAC matches, Richmond will face an assortment of non-conference teams that Larsen thinks can make the team better. 

The Lady Raiders will play Uwharrie Charter Academy, Pine Forest, Montgomery Central and Forest Hills, among others.

The Lady Raiders will have a busy first week of play starting Monday with a string of three matches in three days.

Richmond will host non-conference opponents Harnett Central, Montgomery Central and Pine Forest high schools. All three matches will begin around 6 p.m. following the conclusion of the junior varsity matches.

SEASON SCHEDULE: Click here for an always up-to-date schedule for the Richmond volleyball team. 

The Richmond Observer will continue its award-winning coverage of the varsity and junior varsity volleyball teams this fall. 

Follow us on Twitter @ROSports_ for live updates, interviews and more.

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Kyle Pillar is a 16-time North Carolina Press Association award-winning sports editor with The Richmond Observer. Follow the sports department on Twitter @ROSports_ for the best in-depth coverage of Richmond County sports.