High school volleyball: South hopes to contend in SPC
Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 21, 2022
Fourth in a series of stories on local volleyball teams …
By Mike London
LANDIS — First of all, South Rowan volleyball is one of the county’s most underrated programs, and that includes all sports.
It’s been 19-8, 22-6, 28-2, 15-2 and 17-8 since the Raiders, coached by Jenna Horne, turned the corner in 2017.
After a dramatic rise to being a top 10 program in the state in 2A, the Raiders made a smooth transition as they returned to the 3A ranks in 2021. Maybe they weren’t elite, but they were in the next tier below elite.
They beat Carson once, and that’s never a routine task. They knocked off a good Lake Norman Charter team twice — in the semifinals of the South Piedmont Conference Tournament and again in the first round of the 3A state playoffs.
South wasn’t quite good enough to beat West Rowan, but on Senior Night the Raiders pushed the talented Falcons harder than anyone else in the league was able to do.
Now comes the latest challenge. South has to move on without both Black sisters.
Payton Black, the dynamic libero who was one of the county’s best players, graduated.
Cameron Black, a forceful hitter who led the Raiders in kills and aces while placing second to her sister in digs, is a senior who decided not to play this season.
Cameron was a terrific player who would have been one of the county’s top five. Her personal decision is respected by Horne, but this was a surprising turn of events.
It probably means the ceiling for South is now good instead of great, but Horne is determined to keep the Raiders in contention.
“We’re young, but the goal is to have another strong team,” Horne said. “We want to keep winning, but we won’t have many easy matches. We’ll have to show up and play every match. We’ll have to be ready to compete.”
South’s program is deep enough that the Raiders can still shoot for the playoffs and a top-three finish in the SPC, but it will be even harder to get in the top three this season. West is still one of the best in 3A, while Carson, which tied South for third last season, and East Rowan definitely are better than they were a year ago. Lake Norman Charter always has a solid program.
South still has a star in junior Leah Rymer. Leah is tall and skilled and will be used in a combination setter/hitter role. She had 466 assists, 125 kills and 229 digs last season.
“We have to maximize her abilities,” Horne said. “She’s our go-t0 girl a year earlier than we expected, but she can handle it. She’s coming on strong as a hitter and she can do everything well on a volleyball court.”
Avery Welch returns and should win the battle in the middle for the Raiders most nights. She had 178 kills as a sophomore and accounted for most of South’s solo blocks.
“She’s improved over the summer,” Horne said. “She’s reading the court better and her hitting angles are better.”
Meredith Faw was solid as a varsity freshman in 2021. The outside hitter contributed 116 kills and blasted 48 aces.
That’s three players who were starters and contributed greatly to a lot of wins. Horne’s task now is to figure out the rest of the lineup.
There’s only one senior. Ava Huffman has played in big matches and brings some experience to the front row. She could be the right side hitter.
Laurel Everett has good height and will be used mostly in the middle. Sophomore Laney Beaver is the second setter and can also hit.
Jamilyn Rollins and Avery Crowell will be important as defensive specialists.
Freshman libero Campbell Withers has the toughest job. She replaces Payton Black, who handled the back row like a center fielder. She took charge of everything.
Sydney Culp and Mesiyah Howell are junior athletes who will provide depth.
“We lack experience on the defensive end, so that’s where we’ve got some uncertainty,” Horne said. “But the girls are working well together. I’ve got a good feeling about this team.”
South is off to a 2-1 start. The loss was a five-setter at 4A Hickory Ridge.
South Rowan volleyball
Head coach: Jenna Horne, 8th year (125-51)
2021 record: 17-8 (9-5 South Piedmont Conference, tied 3rd)
2021 playoffs: Lost to West Henderson in second round
2022 record: 2-1
Conference: 3A South Piedmont Conference (Carson, East Rowan, West Rowan, Lake Norman Charter, Central Cabarrus, Concord, NW Cabarrus)
Standouts: Leah Rymer, Avery Welch, Meredith Faw