The Covenant Day volleyball team goes an annual retreat each summer before the season starts.The focus on its trip, which was at Seabrook Island near Charleston, is team bonding. The feeling this year was a little different.“Before the coaches talked about any goals, our girls said their goal was to win a state championship,” said Covenant Day volleyball coach Heather Mills. “From day one of practice, there is a different level of focus and intensity in everything we do.”Mills says even the Lions’ practices this year have had a “game-like,” feel and competition to them.That focus has helped Covenant Day have one its best seasons to date at 14-2 and a perfect 8-0 in Metrolina Athletic Conference play.. The Lions are doing it with a relatively young team made up of one senior, six juniors, one sophomore and four freshmen.Junior co-captains Hannah Billiard, Megan Embry and Christina Goforth have led the way. The entire group has experience playing together, as most have been in Covenant Day volleyball since middle school.“Most of us have played together for a while now in school ball and even in club (volleyball),” Goforth said. “We are good friends on and off the court and we have great chemistry and I think that give us a big advantage.” Mills agrees.“It’s much easier having girls in the program from sixth, seventh, eighth grade on,” said Mills, who is in her seventh year as the head volleyball coach. “I think (this) team is reaping the benefits of our long-term work. But we still feel like we have a lot of room to grow because we are so young. I don’t feel like you ever arrive. You are always pushing forward.” The Lions have had several program-changing wins already this season.The first big win was Aug. 29 when they swept nine-time defending state champion Charlotte Latin (26-24, 25-11, 28-26 at Latin) for the first time.Goforth had 16 kills, Embry chipped in 31 assists and freshman Sarah Billiard, who Mills says “has the potential to be a star,” had 11 kills and six aces in the win.The Lions also beat last year’s NCISAA 3A state runner-up Charlotte Country Day (24-26, 26-24, 25-14, 9-25, 15-9) in a back-and-forth match. Covenant Day had lost to Country Day and Latin earlier this season, but the wins proved that they compete with the best.“We all believed that we could go in and beat Latin,” Embry said. “But I think once we actually went there and did it, we proved that this team can accomplish anything. We feel like we are stronger than ever now.” Mills says it’s the deepest team she’s ever had, with Goforth, Sarah Billiard, senior Madison Hargette and junior Makenna Wray on the outside, Hannah Billiard and junior Anna Schoeck in the middle, and Embry as the team’s setter.The defensive work is done mostly by sophomore Charissa Coleman, freshmen Maddie Grace Hough, Macy Henry and Kristen Seibert, and juniors Allie Ferguson and Embry.“Offense tends to get a lot of the credit in any sport,” Mills said. “But our defense has allowed us to be as good as we are this year. Our defense and hustle is what is winning games.”Hannah Billiard says the overall team talent is a big reason for its success.“Every position is filled with excellent players,” Billiard said. “It makes things a lot easier if you can just focus on your individual role on the team.”While the Lions want to win their second straight MAC regular season and tournament titles, they have bigger goals in mind.After a five-set loss to Cary Academy in the state quarterfinals last year, the Lions have even more motivation to make a run in the state playoffs.“That loss was really tough, has motivated us a lot already,” Goforth said. “But I think once we get back to the playoffs this year, we will think back to it and it will motivate even more. We don’t want that to happen again.”Embry says the whole feeling surrounding the team, even at school, has also inspired them.“We haven’t really been one of those teams that was contending for a state championship in the past,” Embry said. “In the past, people at school would ask us ‘How is the season going?’ Now, they ask us ‘Are you going to win a state championship?’ I think that makes us all want do it even more.” Note: This story went to print before Covenant Day played Providence Day (Sept. 20) in the Nation Ford High tournament.
Friday, Sep. 20, 2013
Covenant Day volleyball off to one of the program’s best starts
Jay Edwards is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Jay? Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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