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VOLLEYBALL PREVIEW: Team-by-team capsules
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Emma Gore and Forsyth Central made an incredible turnaround last season. - photo by File photo

FORSYTH CENTRAL

Coach: Katie Vazquez, fifth season

Last season: 19-13

Key returners: OH/L Emma Gore, jr.; OH Julia Jasion, sr.; DS Amber Walsh, sr.; MH Sarah Whittington, sr.

Key newcomers: S Morgan Liffers, jr.; S/DS Brittain Ragsdale, fr.; MH Victoria Young, so.

Outlook: Perhaps no team in the county made bigger strides than the Lady Bulldogs last season, who came within one match of reaching the state playoffs a year after winning just two matches – total! Outside hitting will come from seniors Julia Jasion and Sarah Whittington. Amber Walsh moves to libero, though junior Emma Gore, an outside hitter last season, has shown promise at that position too. The key will be replacing departed setter Liepa Vaicekaveciute, but fifth-year coach Katie Vazquez sees junior Morgan Liffers stepping right in without a drop off. But the best news for Central? Vazquez already sees the same kind of chemistry she did last season. “It’s fun right now watching them almost pick up where we left off,” Vazquez said.

HORIZON CHRISTIAN ACADEMY

Coach: Christy Callahan, first season

Last season: GICAA Division II state champions

Key returners: none

Key newcomers: S Catherine Biddle; MH Jenny Choi; MH Sydney Haisen; OH Hannah Waedy.

Outlook: So much has changed for the Lady Warriors since winning a second consecutive GICAA Division II state championship last season. Horizon graduated every significant player and saw one of its promising young ones transfer. First-year head coach Christy Callahan was hired. Participation dropped low enough that the school decided to combine the middle school and high school teams. This is the ultimate rebuild. So Callahan’s first message to her team: forget about state championships. “That’s not the goal I have for this season,” said Callahan, who went 57-22 in three seasons at Harford Community College in Maryland before coming to Horizon. “My goal is for them to give 110 percent and just to work as a team.”

LAMBERT

Coach: Missey Hall, fourth season

Last season: 18-24

Key returners: S Kendal Barrett, jr.; OH/MH Madeleine Bertz, so.; OH Ashley Cruise, so.; L Jordyn Moellering, jr.

Key newcomers: OH/DS Sissy Allen; OH/MH Katie O’Donnell.

Outlook: Between the return of sophomore hitters Madeleine Bertz and Ashley Cruise, and the addition of hitters Sissy Allen and Katie O’Donnell, fourth-year coach Missey Hall figures this will be the most powerful offensive team during her tenure, and one of the better blocking ones too. That quartet gives Hall plenty of attacking options. Junior Jordyn Moellering is one of the county’s top liberoes who had 550 digs last season and was first-team all-county and all-region. Hall is counting on Moellering to help Lambert improve its overall defense, and serve receive in particular, but there’s plenty of potential in this Lady Longhorns team. “We are still a fairly young team,” Hall said, “but our players have grown immensely during the club season. I’m excited about what they have shown so far with both ability and team chemistry.”

NORTH FORSYTH

Coach: Joy Stewart, second season

Last season: 21-17

Key returners: S Marin Black, so.; OH Maddie Bryant, so.; OH Bri Gilbert, jr.; MH Maddie Palmer, jr.; L Kailey Salazar.

Key newcomers: OH Grace Dechellis, so.; OH Mary Ellen Enright, fr.; OH Cassie Markle, so.

Outlook: The Lady Raiders’ progress in Stewart’s first season as head coach was nothing short of impressive. North improved by 14 wins and was no push-over during region play. Though this team is young, with only two seniors, it might be even deeper than last season’s. North would have enough outside hitting in junior Bri Gilbert and Maddie Bryant, but the Lady Raiders now add sophomore Cassie Markle, who transferred in from Horizon Christian, sophomore Grace Dechellis and freshman Mary Ellen Enright. Junior Maddie Palmer returns to patrol the middle. Senior Kailey Salazar returns at libero to lead the defense. Stewart hopes all of it adds up to big things for North. “We fully expect to have a winning season and make it to the state playoffs,” Stewart said.

Pinecrest Academy

Coach: Sandy Seiferth, first season.

Last season: 24-18, lost in Class A first round

Key returners: MH Caroline Clark, so.; OH Catherine Clark, so.; DS/L Adeline Seiferth, jr.; MH Tessa Stubbs, sr.; MH Gabby Wesemeyer, jr.; 

Outlook: The Lady Paladins are coming off the program’s second state playoff appearance in school history with some intriguing pieces back but also interesting question marks. For starters, the Paladins have just one returning senior starter in Tessa Stubbs. Long-time coach Meg Bohn stepped down just before the start of the school year and was replaced by Sandy Seiferth, who had been the middle school head coach. But Pinecrest could make up for its youth and the offseason turnover with sheer talent, led by an array of offensive weapons. Foremost is junior Gabby Wesemeyer (128 kills, 283 assists, 81 blocks), but there’s also sophomore twins Caroline (74 kills, 129 blocks) and Catherine Clark (44 kills) who patrol the middle. Adeline Seiferth had 186 digs last season and should lead the defense.

SOUTH FORSYTH

Coach: Kelly Wren, eighth season

Last season: 36-20, Region 6-AAAAAA runners-up, lost in state quarterfinals

Key returners: S Courtney Darling, sr.; OH Giana Frangipane, sr.; OH Avery Kline, so.; OH Savian Jordan, jr.; MH Shea McNamara, jr.; OH Amanda Nugent, jr.; DS Erin Yeatman, jr.

Key newcomers: OH Lily Kincaid, jr.; OH Caroline Kajzer, sr.

Outlook: By now, we should know what to expect from the Lady War Eagles after they reached at least the Class AAAAAA quarterfinals for the third straight season. Yes, South will have to replace middle hitter Taylor Svehla, the three-time FCN Volleyball Player of the Year, but Auburn commit Shea McNamara (105 kills) figures to step right in. The Lady War Eagles have plenty of other attacking options around McNamara in Giana Frangipane (85 kills), Avery Kline (60 kills), Savian Jordan (125 kills) and Amanda Nugent (352 kills). Courtney Darling (110 assists) takes over as the team’s primary setter. Erin Yeatman (534 digs) returns as one of the top defensive specialists around. It could be another team with all the makings of a deep state playoff run. “They have all the components for a dream season,” Wren said.

WEST FORSYTH

Coach: Jake Dickey, third season

Last season: 39-10, lost in the first round of Class AAAAAA playoffs

Key returners: OH Taylor Ashcraft, sr.; S Gabby Bachner, sr.; OH Jaz Berry, sr.; MH Caroline Frye, jr.; OH Chloe Lance, jr.; S Jordan Leitch, sr.

Key newcomers: S Rachel Hart, so.; DS Abbey Riggins, so.

Outlook: Last season’s Lady Wolverines team was historically good, especially early on. West started the season 18-0 and won 21 of its first 22 matches. Sure, the schedule got tougher down the stretch, but the Lady Wolverines still managed to get back to the state playoffs and serve notice. Don’t expect a let down from West this season. It returns arguably the county’s top all-around talent in Taylor Ashcraft (313 kills, 292 digs, 83 aces), the 6-AAAAAA Defensive Player of the Year last season. It returns a veteran setter in Jordan Leitch (806 assists). It returns a dangerous outside hitter in Chloe Lance (282 kills) and an experienced middle hitter in Caroline Frye (98 kills, 43 blocks). Another state playoff appearance certainly seems reasonable.