OPINION -- Hawk volleyball is the standard
By Rudy Coggins
Published in Sports on October 15, 2004 1:57 PM
The first time North Lenoir volleyball coach Heather Humphrey watched the current members of her team was during the middle school days when her younger sister, Hermia, played.
Humphrey, honestly, didn't know what to expect once those girls entered high school.
"I knew I had a good group of girls," Humphrey said. "I was hoping I could teach them the things I knew, and they could take them and perform."
Boy, the Hawks have performed well.
North Lenoir clinched an unprecedented fourth consecutive Class 2-A Eastern Plains Conference regular-season championship with a three-game sweep of Tarboro High on Thursday afternoon. The Hawks became the first team in the EPC's 22-year history to claim four straight titles.
North Pitt captured three consecutive crowns from 1985-87 and South Lenoir tied that mark from 1997-99. In fact, seven of the past eight EPC champions have emerged from Lenoir County.
Did Humphrey seriously think her teams would put together this type of run? Not many programs can boast of a 40-match win streak -- 42 if you add last year's EPC tournament title -- and six EPC championships, which includes two tournament trophies.
"After we won the conference in 2001, I knew my girls had the talent," Humphrey said.
North Lenoir's strong suits are its teamwork and communication. Very rarely do they let ball drop and they're extremely effective in transitioning from defense to offense.
Humphrey makes the team run if they let a ball drop in practice or don't communicate. The players hustle around the Wooten Gymnasium court shouting "mine, mine" -- reminding themselves about the importance of talking on each play.
"With volleyball, those two traits (talking, teamwork) are so important for a team to be successful, I believe," Humphrey said.
The Hawks experienced few changes on the court this season after the graduation of Hermia (outside hitter) and setter Mary Catherine Mills. Senior Chanee Lynch easily moved into the setter spot and is averaging 25-27 assists per match.
Lynch spreads the ball around the net to Leslie Oliver, Randi Moulton, Brittany Sanders, Rachel Cromer and Shannon Plymouth. The quintet rips kill attempts from the outside or middle, and understands the significance of stretching an opposing defense.
Teams expect the middle hit from the Hawks, but they also hit the ball to the end line and corners well. That prevents an opponent from pinching the middle and denying the short kill attempts to the middle corners of the court.
Cromer, Emily Brown and Lauren Hudson cover their spots well defensively.
The main thing coach Humphrey likes about this year's is its knack of compensating when a teammate experiences a bad outing.
"The other players step up," she said. "They are supportive of each other on the court. I look forward to practice every day. We work hard in practice and they run, but I believe they love it."
North Lenoir, 20-1 this season and 82-9 during the past four years, clinched homecourt advantage for the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, which begin Oct. 26.
The Hawks are eager to improve upon last year's eastern regional appearance -- a five-set loss to state runner-up Pender County. It was the first time since 1985 that an EPC team had played for a regional championship.
"It was a tough loss," Humphrey said. "We all learned from that game. Hopefully we took something from that game to make us a stronger team. All of the girls on varsity, except for two, play softball for me so they know the hard work it takes to be in the finals.
"Hopefully, we can make another good run at it."
Here is a list of the year-by-year EPC regular-season champions:
1985 North Pitt
1986 North Pitt
1987 North Pitt
1988 South Lenoir
1989 North Pitt
1991 Farmville Central
1995 North Pitt
1996 North Pitt
1997 South Lenoir
1998 South Lenoir
1999 South Lenoir
2000 North Pitt
2001 North Lenoir
2002 North Lenoir
2003 North Lenoir
2004 North Lenoir
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