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HILLSVILLE -- Generally speaking, losing just two kids off a team that finished 23-1 a year ago would translate in to some pretty high hopes for the coming season.
Not that Carroll County isn’t expecting more good things from its volleyball program. Heck, it’s been more than 15 years since the Region IV tournament was held without Carroll County. The Cavaliers haven’t dropped a regular-season Southwest District match since 2004, they’re working on a string of a dozen straight SWD championships and they will open the season with eight returning players. But those two departed kids were something special. Somebody is going to have to step up and replace the 573 kills put away by Kim Caudill and Leanna Rippey. Someone will need to fill the hole left by two kids that served for 570 points and fired 79 aces and came up with 326 digs. And it’ll take a bunch of somebodies to come up with the 150 blocks registered just by Caudill, the Region IV player of the year. And therein lies the key to Carroll County’s season. The components are in place for another championship season. It’s just a matter of who is going to step forward and get it done. “We relied on Kim a whole lot, because when we set the ball we knew it would be put away,” said Carroll County coach Cindy Edwards, entering her 14th season at CCHS. “The thing that I think we’ll miss Kim the most at is her blocking ability. Her domination at the net with her blocking was so huge.” That may not be replaced, but the rest appears to be there. “We do have the people to put the ball down,” said Edwards, whose teams have gone 85-10 the past four years and who notched coaching win No. 200 late last season. “It’s just that they are in a position where they have to do it consistently. Maleah [Neely] is hitting the ball real well, Dionna Reece is really hitting it well now, too. Lauren Roper played club ball and is doing a better job, Lindsey Poe is stronger. So I think that will come.” The versatile Neely was third in the Twin Counties in kills (105) and second in assists (315). The rangy Reece can cause problems at the net and Megan Roper can put up a big block. Honesty Rogers, Lindsey Poe, Sarah Singleton and Trish Reed are four more key components who are back, and Jessica Goad can contribute albeit with an injured ACL. Newcomers include juniors Lindsey Davidson, Wendy Burcham, Kim Marshall and Kelsey Pickett, along with sophomores Lexi Hodge and Autumn Fink. Expect the Cavaliers to be strong again on the defensive side and at the serving line, as Edwards hates giving away free points on missed serves. The personality of the team may be a little different this time around, though. “What I’ve noticed, Kimmie and Scrappy led by example, where this group motivates each other a little bit more,” Edwards said. “Things from camp that we saw we needed to get better at were consistent energy, execution – putting the ball down – and communication. They’ve done a really good job this past week of constantly talking. When things are going well we play with a lot of energy. We’ve got to learn to play with that same energy when things aren’t necessarily going as well.” A lot of things had to fall the right way for Carroll County to open the season with 23 straight wins before falling to Salem in the Region IV semifinals. There were some tough five-game matches in which the Cavaliers found another gear in the fifth game. There were some purely dominant outings, and there were some youthful opponents. A change in that last ingredient may result in a more competitive schedule this year. “Most of the teams have more kids back,” said Edwards. “Abingdon was very young, Tazewell pushed us to five games at Tazewell, I think Marion will be down but they’ll be competitive. Patrick and Floyd were young and will be better. “It goes back to where we have to be in that situation and who will step up. We’ve got to find that out. We’ve been blessed to have Kimmie the last few years but now it’s the other kids’ turn to step up. We’ll see what happens with that.”