Tuesday, 19 January 2021 12:54

SEASON RECAP: 6-match winning streak highlight for JV Lady Raiders

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Coach Melissa Dennis and the JV Lady Raiders break a timeout during their win over Hoke County on Nov. 24. Coach Melissa Dennis and the JV Lady Raiders break a timeout during their win over Hoke County on Nov. 24. Kyle Pillar — Sports Editor.

ROCKINGHAM — At the start of the volleyball season in November, junior varsity head coach Melissa Dennis wasn’t sure what the season would bring.

With only three returning sophomores and an influx of freshmen, plus the uncertainties of playing during a pandemic, the JV Lady Raiders overcame a slow start to put together a winning season. 

Richmond capped its 12-game regular season with an 8-4 overall record, which featured a six-match winning streak during the heart of the season. The Lady Raiders managed to sweep Sandhills Athletic Conference opponents Hoke County and rival Scotland high schools in the process.

“This season exceeded all expectations I had,” Dennis explained. “I wasn't even sure that we would get to have a season to begin with. It was definitely one for the books. 

“All the new procedures definitely made it more stressful, not to mention wondering every day if that would be the end of the season. But the health and safety of our athletes were always our top priority.”

Sophomores Brianna Dodson, Quston Leviner and Joy Styles were the only three returners this season. Added to the mix were a handful of freshmen who became regular starters, including Emma Altman, Jenna Gardner, Makailah Jackson, Allie Rodgers and Katie Way.

Richmond started the season on a three-match slide, dropping contests to Purnell Swett, Pinecrest and Jack Britt high schools. Dennis noted that any time a team has several first-year players coming together from different middle schools, there is always an adjustment period.

It took a few matches for the Lady Raiders to find their footing, but once they did, they nearly finished the season without another loss. Richmond closed the door by winning eight of its last nine matches.

 “We had a very young team this year and there was definitely a learning curve for a lot of the girls,” Dennis said. “After the first few games, I think that everything clicked. They began talking to each other more and understanding that they each had a specific job to do on the court. 

“The fact that they were able to work and effectively communicate with each other made all the difference.”

That cohesiveness led to the eventual six-game winning streak that started with a 2-0 win over Hoke County on Nov. 24. For nearly a month, the JV Lady Raiders wouldn’t drop a match, defeating Lumberton, Seventy-First, Scotland, Purnell Swett and Pinecrest in the process.

The two-set victory over Purnell Swett ended the Lady Rams’ perfect 7-0 record, and Richmond rallied late to take a thrilling third set against Pinecrest on Dec. 15. Despite a valiant effort on the road at Jack Britt, the Lady Raiders’ stretch ended two nights later.

“Winning six in a row was very exciting, but at the same time it was a lot of pressure,” Dennis said. “We never wanted the next game to be the game to break it. It made the girls play harder every game.”

Of player personnel, Dennis called Styles a “huge asset to the team,” not only as the setter, but also as the team’s captain. The head coach complemented Styles’ ability to communicate with the team and showcase leadership abilities when the Lady Raiders needed someone to look to. 

Way stepped up as a forceful middle hitter, leading the team most nights in kills, despite missing some time with an ankle injury. Leviner and Altman also proved essential, working the outside hitting lanes and keeping opposing defenses on their toes. 

Gardner was a threat from the serving line, along with Styles, and Jackson paired well with Way to help with offense and defense at the middle of the net. Rodgers emerged early on to be a defensive asset at the libero position, anchoring the back row.

Dennis also worked Dodson, Addyson Hollingsworth and Kady Harris into matches. Dodson filled Way’s role during her injury and Hollingsworth served a big third set during the season finale against Scotland.

“Allie consistently held down the back row for us. There were not a lot of times where the balls would hit the ground,” Dennis said. 

“Jenna consistently performed and that was definitely noticed. She might not have made huge plays, but she consistently played well, not to mention serving 19 points in a row (at Seventy-First).”

With the season in the books, Dennis and varsity head coach Ashleigh Larsen will shift their focus on the needs of both programs for next fall.

“The fact that these girls are so coachable will be a huge asset regardless of what team they play on next year,” Dennis closed. “They are willing to step up and do what they need to for their team. I can't say enough how proud of them I am.” 

Kyle Pillar

Three-time award-winning sports editor. Indiana University of Pennsylvania communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

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