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POY WATCH: South's Nugent returns as favorite, but others lurk
FCN POYWATCH VB 071516 web
South Forsyth's Amanda Nugent was the 2015 FCN Volleyball Player of the Year, but Forsyth County is full of talented players like Lambert's Ashley Cruise (from left), North Forsyth's Maddie Bryant, South's Shea McNamara and West Forsyth's Chloe Lance. - photo by File photos

Has volleyball become too predictable in Forsyth County in recent seasons?

Perhaps, at least when it comes to selecting the county player of the year.

That honor has gone to a South Forsyth player the past four seasons. Former Lady War Eagles middle hitter Taylor Svehla won it three straight years, then outside hitter Amanda Nugent claimed it this past season after leading South to the state championship match for the first time ever.

Nugent returns hoping to maintain the status quo – her middle name is Pride; I’m sure there’s some symbolism in there somewhere – but other players are lurking with the individual talent capable of pushing Nugent.

Here are five players in alphabetical order to watch this season:

MADDIE BRYANT // NORTH FORSYTH

The rising junior outside hitter had a standout season for the Lady Raiders in 2015, finishing with 201 kills, 140 digs and 46 aces on a team that went 19-16 to be named second-team all-Area 6-6A.

Why Bryant: She displayed one of the best all-around skillsets last season. She was first on the team in kills and second in aces, while also contributing on defense.

Bryant figures to be just coming into her own as a rising junior; she’s the youngest player on this list. And she has a strong supporting cast returning around her in outside hitter Bri Gilbert and middle hitter Maddie Palmer to help take the defensive pressure off.

Why not: As much as North has improved these past two seasons under former head coach Joy Stewart, it’s hard to imagine Bryant pulling off player-of-the-year honors if the Lady Raiders don’t make the state playoffs.

The new area alignment should help North’s playoff chances, and the Lady Raiders’ new head coaching tandem of Kelly and Drew Cecil come with an impressive résumé of success. 

ASHLEY CRUISE // LAMBERT

The rising senior was first-team all-Area 6-6A last season after helping the Lady Longhorns go 36-12, finish runner-up in the area and win their first state playoff match in school history.

Cruise had 425 kills, 296 digs, 53 aces and 40 blocks as one of the county’s top outside hitters.

Why Cruise: Cruise solidified herself as one of the county’s handful of top players last season in the way she emerged as such an offensive force for Lambert.

Cruise suffered an Achilles injury during the state playoffs last season and wasn’t able to contribute to Lambert’s historic season. If she stays healthy and leads Lambert on another playoff run, she’ll push Nugent for player-of-the-year honors.

Why not: Well, there’s Nugent for one, who is surely more determined than ever after coming up short of a state title last season. But there’s South as a whole, who has dominated the Lady Longhorns in recent seasons.

If Lambert can’t find a way to defeat South again this season, it’d put a dent into Cruise’s player-of-the-year candidacy.

CHLOE LANCE // WEST FORSYTH

The rising senior outside hitter was second-team all-county last season with 301 kills, 66 digs and 28 aces.

Why Lance: After playing something of a sidekick role the past two seasons, Lance figures to be the unquestioned go-to hitter for West. Translation: even more hitting opportunities.

Plus, consider that Lance had 301 kills while missing a little over a week last season with a foot injury. Given a full season as the Lady Wolverines’ big hitter, and she could produce an impressive season.

Why not: The Lady Wolverines have a lot of talent to replace around Lance. West has to replace eight seniors who combined for 831 kills last season.

Lance has 301 of the returning 310 kills for West. She’ll need some newcomers to step up and take the defensive pressure off.

SHEA MCNAMARA // SOUTH FORSYTH

The rising senior was all-state honorable mention and first-team all-Area 6-6A last season. An Auburn commit, McNamara had 254 kills (with a 38.5 hitting percentage) and 124 blocks to help South reach the Class 6A state championship.

Why McNamara: The middle hitter’s best volleyball is still ahead of her – a scary proposition. McNamara came to the sport late compared most other elite players; she was a competitive Irish dancer growing up.

So the growth she showed last season – doubling her kills in one season from 105 as a sophomore to 254 – could be an indicator something even better is in store as a senior.

Why not: South has to replace setter Courtney Darling, who was first-team all-state last season, and much of McNamara’s effectiveness is dependent on the timing between her and the setter. If there are growing pains there, that could have an impact on McNamara’s player-of-the-year candidacy.

But the setter is crucial to a volleyball team’s entire offense, and South’s not likely to let that become a weakness with so many returning starters from last season’s team that reached the state finals.

AMANDA NUGENT // SOUTH FORSYTH

The rising senior was the Lady War Eagles’ go-to hitter during their run to the Class 6A state championship match, finishing with 565 kills, 235 digs and 40 aces.

Nugent was first-team all-state, the Area 6-6A co-player of the year and the Forsyth County News’ player of the year.

Why Nugent: She’s the most accomplished volleyball player in the county, having already eclipsed 1,000 kills for her career, making the all-state team, winning two individual awards and leading South to the state championship match.

Nugent extended South’s run of county players of the year to four straight seasons, and if she matches what she did in 2015 it’s hard seeing that run end.

Why not: Let’s just imagine that any number of Nugent’s teammates take considerable leaps forward this season and cut into Nugent’s production, particularly McNamara, rising senior outside hitter Lily Kincaid and sophomore middle hitter Avery Kline. It’s not that far-fetched considering the talent of each.

It’s more likely Nugent, a two-time team captain, welcomes her teammates playing even better than last season: a state title would seem that much closer.

Others to watch: Madeleine Bertz, Lambert; Avery Kline, South Forsyth; Adeline Seiferth, Pinecrest Academy; Erin Yeatman, South Forsyth.