After falling to Charlotte Catholic in a mid-September regular-season match last year, it seemed the Marvin Ridge volleyball team might not lose another game that season. And from that point, that was nearly the case.
The Mavs went on an incredible run, reeling off 15 consecutive wins – including a 13-game streak during which they outscored their opponents 42-2. The longer the season wore on, the better Marvin Ridge got. The Mavs (24-3) finished last year with a school–record for wins, including a 12-0 mark in the Southern Carolina 3A/4A conference, and made it to the third round of the Class 3A state playoffs where they narrowly fell to eventual runner-up China Grove Carson, 3-1 (25-18, 21-25, 23-25, 23-25).
This season, the Mavs are ready to show they can do it all over again.
“Last year put us on the radar and let people know we’re here to play,” coach Brook Hammers said.
Despite the loss of six key rotation players – including setter Andie Russell and leading attacker Elizabeth Stedman, who helped lead the Mavs to an 87-13 record, three Southern Carolina 3A/4A titles and a 36-0 conference mark during that stretch – Hammers and the Mavs are optimistic for this season.
“I think it gave us inspiration for the program,” Hammers said. “We did lose six players, but we also had a really good core group come back. We have six girls who came back and we have (Mereze Visagie) coming back from injury and they’re going to be an integral part of this team.”
Hammers feels there’s a good chance the Mavs won’t fall far, if at all, from the level they reached last year thanks to the players she has. So far, with a 3-0 record that includes a straight-set win over Charlotte Latin – the private-school state champion each of the previous nine seasons – it seems the Mavs are back to finish what they started.
“Even though we lost a lot of players, I feel like we’re still strong,” junior Katrina Hartley said. “We have power at every position, and I feel like it’s our job to help bring up the underclassmen and get back that team vibe we had last year.
“Last year we had great chemistry, we were all supportive on and off the court and we worked as a team. We had passion, and we thought ‘We’re going to do this, let’s go.’”
Junior libero Mackenzie Kuchmaner at first figured it may be a rebuilding year, but now thinks the parts are in place to continue the Mavs’ recent success.
“We need to keep practicing and keep working on some things,” she said. “It’s early, though, and we can tell that the talent is there to keep us (competitive).”
This year’s Mavs feature outside hitters Hartley (218 kills, 98 digs last year) and Erin Horn (121 kills) joining Kuchmaner (400 serves received, 411 digs) as some of the Mavs most experienced players who are anxious to keep the team’s fortunes high.
“I’m taking charge as a leader being an upperclassman and I’m very excited this year to have that role,” Horn said. “We’ve learned from some of the seniors last year and I want to pass that along this year.”
So far, with a mix of youthful players eager to earn their stripes and veterans enthusiastic to show them the ropes, the Mavs haven’t missed a beat.
“I think our (first couple games) were about getting out the nerves and getting the silly mistakes out of the way,” Hammers said. “I think we did that and now it’s going to be game time and they’ll be ready to play.
“Having a person next to you who wasn’t there last year, that’s hard. So I think just getting used to that takes a while.”
Hammers said one of the most pressing needs is replacing Russell, who was the Mavs’ setter in each of the previous three seasons. Russell has come back to campus this fall to work with junior Madison Cundiff and sophomore Ally MacWhirter, who are vying for the job.
“When you have someone (like Russell) who has played the position for three years and all the girls know her and click with her, that’s difficult to replace,” Hammers said. “Now we have two setters who we’re trying to develop and they’re doing a great job. They come in early and they stay late. (Russell) has come in and worked with them, so it’s great to be able to keep it in the family.”
The togetherness shown by the link of veteran and new players is something this year’s Mavs aren’t taking lightly. Horn said the key is to continue working as a team.
“We have the team chemistry to go far this year,” she said. “I think that we’re pretty strong at every position, but if you have the chemistry, that can outweigh talent sometimes.”
The Mavs have experienced outside hitters and a defense that, aside from the loss of Amanda Harmon to graduation, returns in full. Where they’re lacking, Hammers is making adjustments to ensure the Mavs fall in line with the past three seasons.
“We have some good strengths, we have some big guns in the middle with Katrina and Emily,” Hammers said. “I’ve moved Emily from the right to the outside and I put Maddie Spurgeon on the right side to replace her. She played some last year and she’s really worked hard during the offseason and has really stepped up.
“I think we’ll be fine. We have the talent and we have the leadership in place.”
Kuchmaner seconded her coach’s assessment and can see the Mavs coming together after just three games on the court.
“We have looked good so far, but there’s room for some improvement,” Kuchmaner said. “Again, they’re only sophomores, so I know we’ll get there as they get more experienced.”
With experience, the Mavs feel they’ll be right in the thick of the hunt for another conference title and will again be a state title contender.
“I’m pumped and determined to get as far as we can in the state tournament,” Hartley said. “We’re going to work up to our big goal of being state champions, but that’s over the next two years. We’re going to do as much as we can to help bring up our teammates and get where we need to go.
“Last year’s just a starting point and motivation to where we need to get to go.”