Wednesday, 14 August 2019 01:36

Lady Raider Season Preview: Larsen and company's eyes set on third SAC title in four years

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This year's team returns eight players from a year ago as the Lady Raiders are poised to win an SAC title. This year's team returns eight players from a year ago as the Lady Raiders are poised to win an SAC title. Kyle Pillar — The Richmond Observer.

ROCKINGHAM — It’s a new season for the Richmond Senior High School volleyball team, and second-year head coach Ashleigh Larsen is looking to relaunch the program back to the top of the Sandhills Athletic Conference.


As the Lady Raiders have trained hard over the summer in the weight room, on the volleyball court and in the sand, Larsen has set the bar no lower than winning the program’s third SAC title in the last four years.

Richmond is returning eight players from a season ago, including four starters: seniors Jadyn Johnson (outside hitter), Carley Lambeth (setter) and Layne Maultsby (libero), along with junior Georgia Grace Anderson (middle hitter). 

Other returners looking to contribute are seniors Jasmine Ewing (right side hitter) and Madison Jordan (outside hitter), and juniors Taylor Chappell (outside/right side hitter) and Emy Cooley (defensive specialist). Richmond will only be without two seniors from last year in Savannah Chappell and Savannah Lampley.

Larsen is entering her eighth year with the program, having served for six years as the head junior varsity coach and a varsity assistant. She, along with some of this year’s seniors, clearly remember the excitement of the back-to-back conference titles in 2016 and 2017. Two seasons ago, Richmond set the program record with 25 consecutive wins in a season. 

In what she called a “rebuilding year” last season, Larsen and the Lady Raiders finished 13-9 overall with a 10-4 mark in SAC play. That put Richmond in third place behind conference winner Jack Britt High School and its biggest foe, Pinecrest High School.

But with the group and experience she has this fall, Larsen believes her team can reclaim the top spot.

“Our overall goal is to win the conference title and get back on top of things,” Larsen said at Tuesday’s practice. “The girls are certainly not happy finishing third last year, and we want to make it farther in the state playoffs. There’s this hump we want to get over, and part of that’ll be based on where we finish in conference.

“Our girls know all about the back-to-back titles, and this year we have so many returners who can help us win it again,” she added. “There are also a lot of newer girls who’ve eagerly been waiting. Our x-factor is finding the right combination to lead the way to get us back to the top.”

Part of finding the right mixture is making sure multiple players can play multiple positions. Larsen hasn’t been afraid to switch players around this pre-season, as she’s almost certain the right puzzle pieces are now in place.

Maultsby, the team’s lone four-year starter, has always been a “leader by example,” but Larsen expressed her pleasure with her libero’s more outward and “vocal approach” this season. A staple in the back row, Maultsby racked up a career-high 44 digs against Lumberton High School last season, and a team-high 324 digs, while also earning her first All-Conference selection as a junior.

Lambeth is the other returning All-SAC player, as her success as the team’s setter is vital to every play. Larsen also complimented Lambeth for her vocal leadership, which is “very helpful during matches.” Last season, Lambeth had team highs in aces (44) and assists (562).

The head coach added she is hoping that Johnson and Jordan will step up as outsides, noting Johnson “has the potential to fill the shoes as big hitter, while Madison has been working hard.” Johnson is the second-highest returning hitter, having knocked 109 kills last season.

Anderson will return as one half of the team’s middle, as Covington’s bump to the varsity level should give the Lady Raiders a strong presence at the net. As the team’s leading returning blocker (31) and hitter (119), Anderson is a “returning starter who knows what’s expected,” and Covington is “filling in nicely and is super aggressive as a middle hitter.”

Taylor Chappell will look to contribute more this season, as she’s returning from an injury that sidelined her for a majority of her sophomore year. Larsen is working her as an outside and right side hitter.

“Jasmine is our No. 1 vocal leader, and she knows how to get everyone pumped up,” Larsen said of Ewing. “She gives 110 percent no matter what position she’s playing. Emy will be our defensive specialist and will cover anyone struggling with passing. She’ll help boost our back row.”

Kelly Hoffman will play outside hitter, Shelly Hoffman will continue taking reps as a setter and right side hitter, and McDougald has been working as a defensive specialist.

With a year of head coaching under her belt, Larsen, who is eight months pregnant with her first child, said she’s a lot more confident in her coaching abilities as the season nears.

“I know a little more about what to expect, especially having been over whole program last year,” she said of coaching varsity and junior varsity in 2018. “I definitely learned a lot, but now Melissa (Dennis) is a blessing taking over JV. We are way ahead of where we were at this point last summer.

“I’m really excited for this group and for this season,” she added. “Most of the girls have played for me for several years, so it’s bittersweet with these seniors. But we’re determined, and the five seniors want to end on a high note. This is my favorite time of year, and the good attitudes are a plus.”

Of the SAC competition her team will face this year, Larsen admitted that it will be “tough and competitive,” something the conference has proven to be year in and year out.

 

The Lady Raiders will officially kick off their season at home on Tuesday, Aug. 20, when they welcome in non-conference opponent Anson High School. JV will begin at 5 p.m. followed by varsity.

Kyle Pillar

Sports Editor. IUP communications media and journalism alumni. English teacher, Ninth Grade Academy.

Submit local sports scores to: kpillar@richmondobserver.com

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