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Prep volleyball: Carson set new standard

By Mike London
mlondon@salisburypost.com
CHINA GROVE ó Last Wednesday, Carson’s Taylor Whitley got home from school earlier than she had all year, plopped down on the couch and was bored after five minutes.
“It was strange just sitting there after all those weeks of volleyball,” Whitley said. “I started thinking, ‘I need to be doing something.’ ”
Whitley, a senior setter, did plenty for Carson volleyball the last four years, especially the last two months. The Cougars lost at Charlotte Catholic in the second round of the 3A playoffs to force Whitley into temporary retirement, but a 22-6 season raised the level of expectations for Carson athletics and Rowan County volleyball.
“I think the girls exceeded what a lot of people thought they could do, and they even surprised themselves some,” said veteran coach Kelan Rogers, who just completed his first season at Carson. “But while they did well, they’re disappointed they didn’t do more. The girls are not satisfied, and I’m never satisfied.”
Trish Hester coached the Cougars their first three years and just missed the state playoffs in 2008 when the NPC was a 10-team league that received six berths.
With nine seniors reinforced by youngsters coached by Hester in Junior Olympic volleyball, the Cougars opened this season with 10 straight wins. They didn’t look back. Five of their losses were to powerhouses West Iredell and North Iredell, and Carson finally beat North Iredell in an NPC tournament semifinal to leap one more hurdle.
“We didn’t see it coming, at first,” Whitley said. “But then the wins started coming and we were all just going for it. It got to the point where we couldn’t stand losing.”
The seniors who wrapped up careers include Whitley, kills leader Breckin Settlemyer, libero Sarah Marshall, Jennifer Hough, Amber Ingraham, Shanna Stewart, Heather Ciscel, Jenna Lyerly and Megan Meismer, but Rogers is confident the Cougars won’t drop off the map.
Freshman Allison Blackwell showed huge potential as a hitter and blocker. Also returning will be Leah Perkins, Marissa Sellers and Madelyn Plummer. That trio excelled at digging and serving.
“We lose nine, but we’ll replace ’em and move on,” Rogers said. “I like our young kids, and we had a very good jayvee team (19-5). I don’t plan on us being one-and-done, but a real key will be our J.O. program. West Iredell starts volleyball leagues in the third grade, so they have an advantage of years of experience on us. For us to compete at the level I want us to compete at, we have to narrow that gap. I want to catch ’em, and I want to pass ’em.”
The primary sport for Blackwell is basketball, but she’s caught the volleyball bug now.
“We plan to do our best during the offseason to keep up the skills we learned,” she said. “We’ll come back with that same intensity next year, that same refuse-to-lose mentality.”
Whitley hopes to play volleyball in college and should get that opportunity. She sees good things ahead for the program she leaves behind.
“They’re going to have some fun,” she said. “Coach is going to make those young ones better and better.”
Whitley helped them get where they are now, and her stay on the couch didn’t last long. Basketball practice started yesterday.

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