WENDELL — The East Wake volleyball team stumbled through an erratic season last fall, finishing 10-11 and 8-6 in the Greater Neuse River Conference before getting bounced in the first round of the playoffs by Wilmington Ashley.
While the team struggled to maintain consistency last season, they might have a tougher time this season after losing Shakerrya Morrison and Tianna Knuckles on the front line. Despite the enormous loss of her senior leaders, coach Susan Wall trusts that this year’s squad can once again make it to the playoffs.
“I think we have a great group of girls,” Wall said. “My expectation is still to win the conference, and I believe we have a team that’s eager to do that. As long as we can maintain the same chemistry we’ve had the last few seasons, we’ll be competitive again.”
Key players: One of the most notable returning players this season will be Briana Arnold. The senior played in 61 sets during her junior year, accumulating 22 kills and 23 blocks.
Fellow seniors Caitlin Brown and Shamara Richardson are also expected to step up as starters. Brown has played over 100 sets and amassed 83 digs during two seasons on varsity. Richardson is much less experienced, but she had 29 digs in only 18 sets last season.
“Briana, Caitlin and even Shamara are going to be taking on roles that are somewhat new for them,” Wall said. “But they’ve embraced that, and they’ve picked up the pace. They’ve done well, and I expect them to set the tone for what we’re planning on doing this year.”
Wild card: Much like the role she plays as the point guard on the girls’ basketball team, libero Ciera Williams will be expected to be a floor general. The junior has played in 65 or more sets each of the last two seasons and needs just five digs to record her 200th for her career.
“Ciera has played well since her freshman year for us, and I’m really looking for her to bloom this year,” Wall said. “I want her to take on a lot of leadership as far as passing and running the defensive part of the team.”
Strengths and weaknesses: Much like last year, the Warriors don’t struggle with communication. Several of the players – including Arnold, Richardson and Williams – are teammates in basketball, too, and are comfortable with each other on and off the floor.
The toughest aspect to predict going into the season for the Warriors will be how each player will respond to their new role. With a lack of experience for starters and reserves, Wall hopes her team has enough practice together by the time the conference season begins.
“Actual game experience might be our biggest concern,” she said. “So for right now, we need true game experience. I’m hoping to see a lot of growth with this group … but I think we’ll see some big improvements when they finally jel.”
Smith: 919-829-4841; @RCorySmith