Red Hawks aim for eighth district title, return to nationals (2018-11-01 23:42:56)

HICKORY, N.C. — The 15th-ranked Catawba Valley Community College volleyball team heads into this weekend’s Region X/District O tournament with a ton of momentum.

The Red Hawks (30-9) are winners of 26 of their past 29 matches and have not lost back-to-back matches since Sept. 8.

CVCC head volleyball coach Shannon Hudson believes her young team is peaking at the right time.

“I think we’ve grown tremendously over the season,” Hudson said. “Of course with so many freshman, it’s a huge learning curve that they’ve had to overcome. I think confidence was a big issue at the beginning of the season because we were so young. They were learning so many new things. They didn’t quite trust our system yet, and they didn’t quite trust each other. I would say that over the past few weeks we have just kind of figured things out and grown together a lot. They are trusting each other more. They have played a lot of games together so they are getting more and more comfortable with each other every day. I think we are looking really strong going into the tournament.”

Perhaps the biggest reason behind the Red Hawks’ stout play of late has been the play of their middle hitters, including freshman Emma Clark, who has a team-best 313 kills and 166 total blocks this season.

“Emma is definitely a superstar, and she doesn’t realize it,” Hudson said. “She is so strong. She looks really good out there. She can do lots of different things. Offensively, she leads in kills almost every game. She can put up a big block. She is getting a couple of aces for us per match. She is kind of that all-around dynamic player that every coach dreams of. We are really pleased with how she’s been playing.”

Behind Clark is another freshman middle hitter in Sage Harrington, who has quietly been putting up strong numbers as well. Harrington is second for the Red Hawks in kills (249) and third on the team in blocks (128).

“Her numbers are consistently really strong,” Hudson said of Harrington. “She is not as dynamic of a player to watch, but she uses her speed. Her snap on the ball is really quick so teams have a hard time defending it. She goes under the radar, but her numbers are still incredible this year. She plays really clean with not many errors. She’s top 10 in hitting percentage. She is that kid who is doing a lot of great things for our team.”

Consistent strong passing has helped aid CVCC’s offensive attack, and that all starts with sophomore libero Emily Williams, who has a team-high 658 digs this season and ranks second all-time in program history with 1,379 career digs.

Freshmen Madison Bolch and Paige Sizemore have also both stepped up to help make the Red Hawks’ passing game even stronger.

“Emily has been consistent all year with passing,” Hudson said. “Some of our freshman have stepped up. Madison Bolch passed a 2.5 (digs per set) last weekend in Illinois, which is crazy good. Paige has been consistent, and her numbers have improved the past few weeks as well. It’s nice having that pass that we need so we can run the quick offense we prefer.”

Setters Emilee Webber and Macy Pope have also been key cogs in helping the Red Hawks’ 6-2 system run effectively.

“Both of them are such strong leaders,” Hudson said of Webber and Pope. “Both of them are great defenders, which you don’t always get from the setter position. Emilee has that extra year behind her and that sophomore leadership. She understands the game and sees the court. She knows how her hitters like the ball. Just having her out there as a leader on the court is really nice and having that sophomore leadership, too. Macy is so fast and so athletic. They both have their own strengths, but they both do what we need them to do in the game. They’ve done a great job working together to help lead our offense.”

After finishing off another unbeaten conference regular-season and extending their winning streak in conference matches to 124 straight, the Red Hawks enter the Region X/District O tournament on Friday with a lot of belief that they can come away with a championship.

However, Hudson isn’t underestimating any opponent, including host Lenoir Community College (8-12) — her team’s first round match up on Friday.

“I think our girls are confident, but we don’t want to look past these matches,” Hudson said. “We are preparing hard for the teams that we are going to play. We know that we have to take it one match at a time. Nothing is going to be given to us. We’ve got to go in there ready to start off strong and play hard all the way through the last match. Our goal for this week is to stay focused, stay positive and work together so that we can accomplish this goal that we set at the beginning of the year.”

If they can earn two victories to reach the Region X/District O championship match, the Red Hawks will likely face either second-seeded Surry Community College (19-4) or third-seeded Walters State (20-8) for the right to reach the NJCAA DII National tournament.

The Red Hawks and Knights have met twice this season with CVCC coming away with two wins, including overcoming a slow start en route to a 3-0 victory in Dobson, N.C. on Oct. 16.

“Surry is tough,” Hudson said. “They’ve had a great year. They have some powerful hitters. We played them really well at home. When we went to there place, we struggled in the first set and had to make a huge comeback. I was really proud of our girls for the way that they did that, but it also scared me. Surry is a strong team that could definitely win it. We are preparing for that. We have our strategies to be able to beat them, but if they come out strong, it’ll be a really tight competition fighting for that championship. We’ll see what happens.”

CVCC was originally scheduled to play Walters State in its 2018 season opener on Aug. 28, but that match was cancelled. The Red Hawks will get their first look at the Senators on Friday during the first round of the Region X/District O tournament.

“We haven’t seen Walters State this year,” Hudson said. “We’ve looked at their numbers, stats and everything. Hopefully we’ll get to see them early in the tournament, watch them a little bit and come up with a good game plan. They are always consistent. They’ve had a great year as well.”

Three wins by the Red Hawks on Friday and Saturday would mean an eighth national tournament berth and their first trip since 2016 — something Hudson believes would be beneficial for her program not only this season, but also heading into 2019.

“It’s a great experience for the girls,” Hudson said of nationals. “It’s a lot of fun. There are top teams up there obviously. It’s nice to get to go and see what that’s like. It’s a great experience. I think we can do well this year. With such a young group that we have this year, we’ll have all of our hitters returning next year. All of our hitters this year are freshman, which is crazy. I think it’d be great to get to go, get that experience and build on that for next year. I’m not saying this team couldn’t go and win it all, but I still think it would be great to have that stepping stone for next year’s sophomore class.”

Admission to the Region X/District O tournament in Kinston, N.C. is $5 per day.

Below is a look at the complete schedule:

Region X/District P tournament (at Lenoir Community College)

Quarterfinals (on Friday)
Game one: No. 4 Pitt (17-5) vs. No. 5 Louisburg (14-11), noon
Game two: No. 1 Catawba Valley (30-9) vs. No. 8 Lenoir (8-12), 2 p.m.
Game three: No. 2 Surry (19-4) vs. No. 7 Cape Fear (8-9), 4 p.m.
Game four: No. 3 Walters State (20-8) vs. No. 6 Wake Tech (21-11), 6 p.m.

Semifinals (on Saturday)
Game one winner vs. game two winner, 10 a.m.
Game three winner vs. game four winner, noon

Semifinal winners, 30 minutes following last semifinal

Photo Courtesy: Emma Clark, CVCC Athletics