KNIGHTDALE — Anna Gay walked into a tough situation.
After Knightdale girls’ volleyball went 0-28 and suffered through its fifth straight losing season under Sally Combs, the former coach stepped down from the position.
But in her normal positive attitude, Gay looks at the opportunity as a chance to make another impact on the school other than the one she’s made the last two years as an English teacher.
“I’ve always loved the game and am really excited to get back into it in another role,” Gay said. “I’m excited for a different opportunity to get back into the game I love and to teach these girls the way I learned how to play.”
Gay played volleyball at High Point Christian Academy and Appalachian State as a libero due to her short stature, but she joked, “I tell the girls all the time, if I can jump higher than you, then we’ve got a problem.”
Despite never coaching at the varsity level, Gay believes she is ready to take on the role – though she knows it won’t be easy in the beginning.
“I’ve been working on communication and energy because I believe those are the most important to a team,” Gay said. “You can have all the talent in the world, but if you don’t have the fundamentals and know how to play as a team, it’s going to be hard to succeed.”
Key players Delaney Vandergrift was the vocal leader for much of last season as a sophomore, but as a junior she will be expected to take on even more of a leadership role as the team’s captain.
Vandergrift played travel volleyball before making the team as a freshman two seasons ago. She will be asked to lead a young group of sophomores and help the young players learn the game at the varsity level.
“She already brings a lot of leadership to the team already, so we’ll just need a little more from her,” Gay said. “She is going to have to be a lot like a catcher on a baseball team – they don’t get a lot of credit, but they are so key. She’s going to mean a lot to this team.”
Strengths and weaknesses While the weaknesses for a 0-28 team might seem plentiful, Gay believes this team has already dealt with some of the struggles of last season. With a focus on improving in the passing game and communicating on the floor, Gay believes that might actually be a strength for the team.
The communication may be improving, but jelling as a team with young players and veteran players is still an area that the Knights look to develop throughout the season.
“We’ve got a lot of talent, but some of these girls are playing on the same team for the first time ever,” Gay said. “We will just need to find ourselves as a team. I’m new. Some of our girls are new. So whether we can find that team dynamic is going to make or break us.”
Strength of schedule The Knights play a similar schedule to last season, opening up against CAP-8 teams like Enloe and Millbrook before jumping straight into the Greater Neuse River Conference schedule. Two of their first three games come against West Johnston and Garner, who finished second and first, respectively, in the conference last season.
Gay will then get her first taste of the East Wake rivalry on Sept. 17 and close the season at East Wake Oct. 10 – two matches she knows will be critical to the school and to what they are trying to accomplish.
“I’ve told my girls that every game is important and we should use every game to grow,” Gay said. “So no matter who we’re playing, it’s important to me. But obviously the game against East Wake is important because it’s a rivalry game.
“I’ve just told the girls that we’re going to play our best all the time. I don’t care if it’s East Wake or the Olympic team, we’re going to give everyone our best.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith