Lady Falcons plan a strong follow-up

Published 12:56 pm Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Fuqua School varsity girls volleyball team has set a high standard for itself entering its sophomore season in the significantly competitive Blue Ridge Conference.

The Lady Falcons made an impressive entrance to the conference last year, finishing second in both the regular season and the tournament. Going 14-7 overall, they reached the state tournament, falling to Denbigh Baptist Christian School in the first round.

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“I think our team’s success last year has pushed a lot of the girls to work hard in the offseason and in preseason,” Fuqua Head Coach Matthew Houchins said. “Last year, I think we flew under the radar and were able to take a lot of teams by surprise being the new team in the conference.”

Five Fuqua players received all-conference recognition, and three of them are returning this year.

Graduation claimed four players from the 2015 squad, including first-team all-conference and second-team all-state setter Taylor Frink, who Houchins said was the unquestionable leader of the team.

All-conference middle blocker Tessa Ayers, Ariel Fowlkes and Madison Pace round out the other graduates.

“We have a good blend this year,” Houchins said, adding that the team is made up of three seniors, three juniors and three sophomores.

Six players are returning, including Ellie Vick, Regan Ware and Lauren Stimpson, who are all-conference honorees.

Vick, a junior outside hitter, and Ware, a sophomore outside hitter, are expected to lead Fuqua on offense.

“Both of them are extremely good athletes who have put in a lot of time in the offseason, and I’m excited to see how they perform this year,” Houchins said.

The team’s senior trio consists of Emmie Jefferson, Sydney Stewart and Stimpson.

“I’m looking to our seniors for leadership because they all have been playing their positions at a high level for a long time now,” Houchins said.

The coach expects his team to be particularly good at defense and ball control, with Jefferson, Jordyn Harris and Lexi Marzloff helping make those strengths.

“I have explained to the team that they now have a target on their back and everyone in the conference will bring their A-game against us,” Houchins said. “The Blue Ridge Conference is extremely deep and competitive, top-to-bottom, but I expect us to be at the top of the conference and hopefully able to make a deeper push into the state tournament this year.”

Opponents aside, the 2016 Lady Falcons face a tall challenge as they seek to establish an identity in the absence of Frink and the other graduates.

“I think that we’ve got a versatile group who can play a number of different positions, but we’ve got to determine which lineup is the most successful and who gels together the best as a unit,” Houchins said.

Sophomore Hannah-Gray Schmidt will be taking over for Frink at setter.

“I think she is capable of taking the reins and leading this team once she adjusts to playing the game at a higher level/faster pace,” Houchins said.

Sophomore Sallie Vick is a first-year player, but “she has already shown a tremendous amount of potential and upside,” the coach said.

Fuqua played its first match of the season Thursday at home against St. Margaret’s School and will return to action Thursday, Sept. 1, at Veritas School in Richmond at 6:30 p.m.