Prep Signing: Carson’s Cloninger to CVCC
CHINA GROVE — Carson senior Aimee Cloninger is the daughter of a Lutheran minister, and that’s meant a lot of family moves.
Her next move will be a short one. The all-conference and all-county player has signed to play volleyball at Hickory’s Catawba Valley Community College, where coaches Shannon Hudson and Mark Wimberley have built a regional powerhouse.
Cloninger was born in North Carolina, but she’s lived in three other states — Pennsylvania, Missouri and Nebraska. Her frequent childhood moves weren’t necessarily bad news. Athletically, it was a plus that she spent years in Nebraska.
“Volleyball is a very big deal in Nebraska,” Cloninger said. “So I got started playing early.”
Cloninger was playing volleyball as a fourth-grader. Had she grown up in Rowan County she may not have been introduced to the sport until she entered high school. So she was miles ahead of most of the competition when her family returned to North Carolina her freshman year.
To that jump-start in Nebraska, Cloninger added a devastating jump-serve.
“I was watching volleyball on TV, and I saw a girl jump-serving and wanted to try it,” Cloninger said. “The next volleyball camp I went to, I started doing it.”
There were a lot of Carson runs of 10 straight points when Cloninger was jump-serving. When healthy, she is accurate and powerful.
Cloninger wasn’t the same explosive player her junior year because of two knee injuries, and that was why Carson was only good in 2011 and not great. She played early, missed six weeks, and then tried to return for the end.
“I tore the meniscus in both knees,” Cloninger explained. “I had surgery on the right knee in September, surgery on the left knee in December.”
She came into her senior year fit and healthy and was a driving force in Carson’s spectacular season that ended with 30-plus wins, the NPC tournament championship and a playoff run that didn’t end until a loss to Cardinal Gibbons in the 3A championship match.
“When Aimee was hurt as a junior, we weren’t the same team anymore,” Carson coach Kelan Rogers said. “But as a senior she played great all year. She can play any position. She was a right-side hitter for us, and you don’t often get accolades at that position, but she’s just a phenomenal player.”
At 5-foot-10, Cloninger is a mobile masher who stayed on the floor every point. Maybe she’s a defender who can hit or maybe she’s a hitter who can defend. She did both things equally well.
“I actually like defense best, and part of that is being a hitter,” Cloninger said. “As a hitter, you understand the importance of that perfect pass, and I always try to make that perfect pass.”
Catawba Valley Community College coaches had never heard of Cloninger, but Hudson and Wimberley were in the bleachers to scout West Iredell’s Madison Pogue when Carson traveled to West Iredell on Sept. 11 for a North Piedmont Conference match. It didn’t take them long to notice Cloninger as well.
“Lo and behold, there’s this girl on the back row wearing all these knee braces and just rolling around and playing amazing defense for Carson,” Wimberley said. “We were writing her name down — and then she starts jump-serving.”
Hudson noticed the little things that only coaches notice.
“I liked the way she just kept working whether her team was up or down,” Hudson said. “She played hard. She played consistent.”
CVCC has put together a virtual NPC all-star team of recruits — Cloninger, North Iredell’s Brittani Cartner, South Rowan’s Tiffany Brooks and West Iredell’s Pogue. They’ll join a program that won conference, district and regional championships last fall and finished 11th nationally.
“Aimee had other offers, but CVCC is where she really wants to go,” Rogers said. “And as long as Aimee is happy, I’m happy for her.”
Cloninger, named Regional Player of the Year after she had 12 kills in the state-championship match, also was recruited by Lenoir-Rhyne and Winston-Salem State, but she wants to make a quieter transition to college volleyball to make sure her knees stay healthy.
“They’re still sore a lot,” she said. “But I love volleyball. I want to play two years at CVCC, and then I hope to go on and play for a four-year school.”
Cloninger will remember Carson’s playoff run as a team dream. Now her personal volleyball journey continues.
“Aimee’s versatility is huge, and she’s just a dominating presence on the court,” Hudson said. “She’s sure to make some headlines.”