DOBSON — With three seasoned sophomores and a talented crop of freshmen, Surry Community College’s volleyball team was ready to tip off the season with last week’s volleyball camp.
Set to have one of its quickest and most athletic teams in head coach Jan Marion-Kiser’s tenure, Surry officially got things underway with its July 17-20 camp in Dobson.
“Our athletes are all excited because this is a week where my girls come together for four days and work together in a capacity to teach a game they are playing,” Marion-Kiser said. “This is the week I usually see my team mold and gel together.”
After finishing third in Region X with a 19-9 record in 2016, the Knights will be led this year by sophomores Anika Thomas, Lexie Hartle and Kenly Burchette. All three are strong players who have also proven to be leaders for Surry on the court.
“You really want to find leaders, someone to step up, and all three have been working well together in the off season, doing workouts and coming together as a team and leaders on the floor,” Marion-Kiser said. “They are taking on more of a leadership role on the court and I love that.”
One of the things the Surry coach is most excited about for 2017 is moving Thomas back to outside hitter. Thomas started last season on the outside, but had to move to libero about midway through the year.
“She went from a major offensive threat for us to being our defensive person to get the offense started with a good pass. She did that with no complaints and stepped up and played huge,” Marion-Kiser said. “Anything we asked her to do, she went full force at it and it will be nice to put her back in a jersey and let her be one of our offensive threats.”
Marion-Kiser described Thomas as being long and lean with a good reach on the ball. She’s also a really smart hitter, the coach said.
“She is super-smart and plays all the way around for us,” she said. “I really look forward to having her more in a hitting capacity.”
Hartle also will be moving to outside hitter in 2017. A sophomore from West Stokes, the 5-11 Hartle is one of the Knights’ most powerful players.
“When I look at her I just think strong. She hits the ball hard. We are working out now and she is working on getting her vertical up and making herself stronger,” the Surry coach said. “Last season she didn’t get as much playing time as she wanted and that will change this season. She will be a good block for any team that has a good right-side and I am excited to have her on the floor this year.”
A 5-11 sophomore from Elkin, Burchette returns at right-side hitter after being hampered with shoulder issues a year ago. She is back and is like “a million bucks,” Marion-Kiser said.
“She has a really good swing and she likes to place the ball. She is a really smart hitter and has been working on passing and her overall game,” Marion-Kiser said. “She is a smart hitter and she is really good at placing the ball. When we need a point she is good at finding a hole in the floor. These three give me really smart volleyball players and they are very driven with great leadership qualities.”
Surry’s skipper is extremely excited about this year’s freshmen class, which includes a strong nucleus of local players as well as a pair of talented athletes from Gastonia. One of them is Mandy Hamrick from Kings Mountain. She is expected to help the team as a defensive specialist.
“She can hit off the back row as well as serve in a defensive capacity. She is a hustler and she has filled that role and shows she needs to play defense for us,” Marion-Kiser said.
The other Gastonia-area product, Mikayla Thorpe, comes to Surry by way of Forestview High School. Thorpe is also a defensive specialist as well as a skilled setter.
“She has great hands, but she also will serve and be another defensive specialist because she’s very good on the back row,” Marion-Kiser said. “She is very quick and she passes and moves well. The local girls have welcomed them with open arms and they really seem to be a good fit for our program.”
Closer to home, Lexia Wingler is a 5-11 middle hitter from Forbush who is quick and powerful. Marion-Kiser said Wingler will add to the Knights’ tradition of quick middles.
“She is very strong. Everything about her when you look at her, you just see female athlete,” she said. “She is very athletically-built and powerful on the court and she puts up a great block. She is smart and she passes well and serves strong.”
At six-foot, Lauren Charleville from North Stokes will be Surry’s tallest player in 2017. She also is very quick and will join Wingler at the middle hitter position.
“Both have such quick feet. They like to run and like to be moving when they are on the court. Both are super strong,” Marion-Kiser said. “Lauren has a really good vertical and she has a great swing. She’s a super-smart hitter and I’m really excited to have these two anchoring the middle. I’m hoping to run a lot of up-tempo offense with them.”
Katie Moncus is another Forbush freshman joining the Knights. Marion-Kiser calls her a “little bitty firecracker” at 5-6 and expects her to be the team’s setter.
“She is a lot of fun in the aspect of having a really good attitude when she is on the court. She is now finding her connection with our hitters,” Surry’s coach said. “She is smart with the ball in her hands and she knows where to distribute it already. She will be such a great quarterback for us this year as far as being a leader on the floor.”
Even closer to home, freshman Bryce Smith joins the Knights after an incredible high school career at East Surry. Coming off an ACL injury that has sidelined her for a year, Smith is working hard to getting back to the level of play she was at before the injury.
“I am excited to see her back on the court. I think once we get into game mode and it is the regular season, I think a switch will flip and she will be back at the level of play she was at before she got hurt,” Marion-Kiser said. “She is strong and her serve is very strong. People have a time passing her serve up and that is one of the things I love. But she also can help us tremendously getting our offense started.”
Incoming freshman Kallie Blackburn is a 5-9 right-side hitter from East Wilkes. Blackburn played a different position in high school, but is making the transition with ease.
“She has been taking every bit of construction criticism and working on her hitting and stepping into that role and doing it well,” Marion-Kiser said. “She is a very smart hitter. She is not extremely tall, but she has a good vertical and she’s very smart.”
The Surry coach loves the attitude her team has taken to work out as a unit during the off season at Spark Athletic Performance in King. It’s a gruesome workout, she said, but the team goes in with a positive attitude and gets through it.
Practice officially starts Aug. 1 and the Knights open the season with home games Aug. 26 against Division III Pfeiffer University and Division III NJCAA team Patrick Henry.
“It’s going to be interesting to see how we do against bigger competition like the DIII schools. We are not the most powerful girls on the floor but what we do have going for us is speed and quickness. I’m hoping that will be a big plus for us this year against bigger teams,” she said. “I do feel good about this team. We have girls that will set great blocks and a defense that will be able to pick up balls. I’m excited about our quickness. This should be one of the quicker teams I’ve had.”