The Franklin County High School Volleyball team will return a good portion of its team from last season, which finished 13-13 in the regular season plus the playoffs. The Eagles’ season ended on a loss to Ocean Lakes, 3-1.
This is the time of year when fall sports, such as volleyball, is already close to the middle of their season. Unfortunately, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the falls sports season has been postponed until winter.
For FCHS volleyball seniors Taylor Anderson, Callie Altice and Lauren Stone, they’re grateful that the season is going to happen, but it’s still a weird feeling coming back to school and not having volleyball to look forward to in the evening.
“It’s been a part of our routine since seventh grade,” Anderson said as Altice and Stone looked on with agreement. “Every time when we begin school, we know volleyball is coming up, and this is our last year to be able to do that routine one more time.”
All three seniors started playing organized volleyball when they were in the seventh grade, and volleyball games and practices in the fall is what they have come to know and expect for the last five years.
This is a season the three seniors believe can still be memorable despite the challenges that the pandemic has presented. The Eagles will be a relatively young team this season, having to replace just three players from last season’s team: Alex Christoff, Rachel Justice and Reese Turner.
Altice believes that although they’re young, the Eagles have an advantage that most teams in their district don’t have that will help them have a great season.
“A lot of our juniors are more advanced than a typical volleyball junior. A lot of them played on varsity last year as a sophomore,” Altice said. “I think we’ll have a pretty good season.”
That junior class features a lot of talent and is highlighted by Courtney Bryant, who just recently committed to North Carolina State University. Bryant held other Division 1 offers such as Virginia Tech and Virginia. She also received interest from Auburn, Duke, and others.
These three seniors will be counted on just as much on and off the court for this season, according to Head Coach Kaitlyn Dula, who is in her third year leading the volleyball program.
“My three seniors this year are all super flexible and play multiple positions, which is a fantastic quality to have in volleyball,” Dula said.
Dula mentioned that at the time when the pandemic hit and put the fall sports season in jeopardy, she gave the team some space and grace to deal with the whole ordeal. They still were able to hold Zoom workouts on Tuesday and Thursday mornings.
Stone talked about the workout plans the team did to try to stay in shape and keep their skills as sharp as they could.
“Throughout the summer, we did workouts on Zoom and she (Dula) would lead the workouts,” Stone said. “We’ve also met a couple of times and ran on the track. We try to do as much as we can.”
Altice followed Stone’s comment and said the chemistry has been really good despite not being able to see each other because they have all been communicating and motivating each other.
As the season inches closer, Dula has said she is definitely going to rely on her seniors to keep the team engaged and excited about whatever type of season they might have. She also said she has the same expectations for her seniors despite the circumstances.
“These girls need to be role models for the babies (underclassmen) under them, which encompasses everything from being on time, having good grades/behavior in school, leading in mile times, giving max effort in practice and games, and just having an overall positive attitude about this new crazy season that we may have,” Dula said.
She also mentioned how she plans to utilize them and how they are valuable to the team on the court.
For Altice, she will play middle or right side hitter. Dula said they will count on her to be a huge presence on the front row.
“Callie usually leads the team in blocks, and she also has extreme precision in her hitting. She can place the ball in any hole on the court for a kill,” she said.
Stone will probably stay at setter, but Dula said she has excellent defensive skills. She also noted that the team relies on her ability to stay level headed under pressure, and she has a high volleyball IQ.
“She has an intelligence on the court that allows her to know who to push the ball to when she’s setting that is fundamental in winning games,” Dula said.
Anderson has been Ms. Utility for the Eagles volleyball team, and Dula mentioned she is her “everywhere” girl, saying she executes wonderfully under any circumstances. Dula said they will rely on her for hitting.
“She has this heavy hand when she hits that makes it practically impossible for the defense to know where the ball is going. Also, her serve is phenomenal. She is one of the few that can ace me if/when I hop in to play in practice,” she said.
When it comes to a someone’s senior year, one thing they really look forward to is their last matchup with a school rival or a school that has given them fits in the past. When asked what teams they want to face on the court one more time, the two teams mentioned were Lord Botetourt and Hidden Valley.
Last year, the Eagles dropped the contest in the fifth set 19-17, and Stone said that was a really close game that they should’ve won.
Lord Botetourt, on the other hand, was a much different opponent for the Eagles. Not just for them, but the entire state. Last season, the Cavaliers went undefeated on their way to the state championship.
“They were definitely our toughest team last year,” Anderson said.
Here’s the kicker, though. Not only did they not lose a game, they never lost a set. This season will look much different for Lord Botetourt, as they have lost their entire starting lineup. Anderson and Altice both mentioned that Lord Botetourt was a team that would get in their heads mentally before they took the court, which gave them an advantage, but they believe they are mentally ready to face them this year.
Even though they are in the beginning of their senior year, all three do have an idea of what their plans are outside of high school. Anderson plans to enroll at James Madison University and major in elementary education and hopes to be a first or second grade teacher. Stone wants to enroll at the University of Virginia and major in Pre-Med with hopes of becoming a Plastic Surgeon. Altice is the only senior who is considering playing volleyball in college and hasn’t decided where she wants to go yet, but she has hopes of being a pharmaceutical rep for ag companies.
Before they move on to college, the seniors just want one more chance to play volleyball together. Although this season will be much different than anything they’ve seen, that won’t stop Dula from having high expectations for her team and her seniors.
“My girls know me and my methods well at this point. I’ve coached or seen them all for several years now, and they know and understand my high expectations. We want to win, and to do that, everyone has to fully buy in and work their tail off,” Dula said. “If they do, I definitely believe we can continue to have that winning record we have become accustomed to the past couple of seasons.”
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