Following an unbeaten mark in league play and 22-3 overall record after a deep run into the 4A state playoffs, the Hoggard volleyball team looks to be at the front of the class once again this year led by 35-year Head Coach Ron Strickland.
Strickland has amassed more than 670 career victories during his three and a half decades on the Vikings’ sideline, but Hoggard will need to make up for key players lost due to graduation, including a pair of heavy hitters in addition to a consistent setter.
“We are a very solid defensive unit, with team quickness and strong senior leadership,” said Strickland. “We have decent size up front, but not a huge team and while our offense is not on par with defense, we’re making great strides daily.
“Because of the great growth and interest in the sport in the area over the last number of years, the overall strength of our conference is up.”
Carolyn Davidson and Meagan Trotta bring back a ton of experience from last season and Strickland will rely on these two players to contribute right away, while Logan Smith will step into the setter role as one of three Vikings at the position.
“Carolyn got lots of court time, but was in the shadow of a very strong senior last year,” Strickland added. “She had a great club season and we’re hoping she’ll bring that offense to the court, as well as sharing leadership with Meagan Trotta. Meg has a unique hitting style that makes her difficult to defend, and she uses it well. The best thing is her leadership. She really helps drive the ship in a very positive direction.
“Logan will lead our setting cadre this year, but is also an offensive threat on either left or right, as well as strong defense at the net. We’re looking for big things from her as she leads the Viking attack.”
Olivia Freeman will play a key role in the Hoggard defense and Hannah Dunlop is expected to contribute as a front row defender after serving as a strong sub off the bench last season. Strickland added that Madie Schider has been working hard during the off season to develop her game as a defender, while six-foot, three-inch sophomore Kaeley Pollock brings a strong defensive element.
Newcomers to watch out for at Hoggard this season are Kirby Smith, Alani Fisher, Mae Rowley, Samantha Shuffler, Camille Whitlock, Isabella Carpenter, and Ashlyn McNamara.
“Kirby is going to be a surprise for other defenses this year,” said Strickland. “At six-foot, she is a big presence, but her attack is so well rounded that she is going to be hard to defend straight up. Alani is a speedy and experienced player, who moved in from Charlotte, while freshman Mae Rowley may be the next defensive leader for the Vikes.
“Samantha and Camille are two of the setters battling for playing time this season and Izzy brings tenacious defense to the front line. Ashlyn is returning to program after two years off, but has spent her time on the sand courts and brings her defensive skills to the hardwood this year.”
While the faces have changed on the court for the Vikings over the years, one constant on the sideline has been Strickland. He began teaching at Hoggard in January 1980, took over the volleyball program in 1982 and remained an educator until retiring in January 2009.
One of the many reasons why the sport has grown so much in the area is due to the work of Strickland and Cape Fear Volleyball Club, which began operation in 1979. It’s one of the oldest clubs in North Carolina and expanded to 20 teams last year, 19 girls and one boys team, with multiple levels of participation from basic regional to advanced national teams. There were about 260 kids involved last year and a little more growth is expected this season.
Hoggard opened the season over the weekend and went 2-2 to take third in pool play in the Country Day Best of North Carolina Invitational. On Friday, the Vikings won in two sets against Charlotte Weddington, but fell in two to North Raleigh Christian Academy. Hoggard opened up Saturday with a 0-2 loss to North Iredell, but rallied to take host Charlotte Country Day in three sets to complete pool play.
Moving into the silver division playoffs, the Vikings advanced to the finals against Charlotte Catholic, ultimately dropping the match in two sets.
Hoggard stats over seven matches: Caroline Kirby Smith- 32 kills, 12 aces; Meagan Trotta-20 kills, eight aces; Logan Smith- 23 kills, 43 assists; Carol Davidson- seven kills, eight blocks; Isabella Carpenter- four aces, 11 kills, six blocks; Madie Schider, 72 digs, 11 aces, seven kills, seven assists; Olivia Freeman-30 digs; Mae Rowley-19 digs; Sam Shuffler-12 assists; Camille Whitlock-14 assists; Hannah Dunlop- four kills, three blocks; Kaeley Pollock-seven kills; Alani Fisher-six kills, two digs; Ashlyn McNamara-14 digs; Julianna Askew-six kills, one block, two digs