Change hasn’t been bad for the Bulldogs
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Monday, Oct. 21, 2013

Change hasn’t been bad for the Bulldogs

  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/18/11/20/wzNdI.Em.138.jpeg|473
    - COURTESY OF JOHN ZENGER
    Jay M. Robinson’s Kirsten Hunt goes up for a kill as teammates (from left) Rachel Rhodes, Lindsay Wisehart and Ashley Cawa stand ready to cover a return during a recent Chargers volleyball match.
  • http://media.charlotteobserver.com/smedia/2013/10/18/11/19/1mzSDJ.Em.138.jpeg|191
    - COURTESY JOHN ZENGER
    The members of Jay M. Robinson’s volleyball team, which finished third in the MECKA 4A standings in its first year playing at the 4A level. Team members are (sitting) Vanessa Blas, (front row, from left) Hiwot Ekuban, Olivia Atripaldi, Lindsay Cawa, Meredith Smith, Mikayla Browne, Gabby Atripaldi and Marissa Mata; (back row, from left) head coach Kathryn Johnston, Ashley Cawa, Lindsay Wisehart, Kirsten Hunt, Rachel Rhodes and assistant coach Amanda James.

No one on the girls’ volleyball team at J.M. Robinson knew what to expect this season.

After several down seasons in class 3A, increased enrollment at the school looked to only be making things more difficult for the Bulldogs when they learned that they’d be jumping to the more competitive 4A this season.

They also were set to start the season with two new coaches, Kathryn Johnston and Amanda James and neither had any previous high school coaching experience.

But the Bulldogs found a way to finish third (11-4) in the MECKA 4A conference with an overall record of 12-7

“Our whole school was pretty nervous about going up ... because we’d be playing teams that we weren’t used to,” senior libero Hiwot Ekuban said. “4A is pretty intimidating all the way around.

“We knew that we were going to have new coaches ... so we were all around pretty anxious to get into our first 4A game.”

It wasn’t until the ninth game of the season, a 4-1 win at Mallard Creek, that the Bulldogs began to feel they belonged.

“What really, I think, validated that we were a legitimate threat with our win at Mallard Creek,” James said. “We won in four games instead of just the traditional three, but they were close games with high intensity and the girls were fighting the whole time.

“The win really gave them the confidence that this is a new program that could be successful in a conference that is more competitive.”

After an ace finally capped the 26-24 win in the fourth set at Mallard Creek, Ekuban knew her squad had a chance to make a real impact.

“It was essential,” she said. “I’m really glad that we won that game because it was really tough. They were, I’m pretty sure, seeded third in the 4A conference at the time, so when we beat them it really proved that we as a team belonged.

“It showed everyone that Robinson wasn’t one of those teams new to the conference that could easily be beat.”

Since the Mallard Creek win, the Bulldogs have gone 8-3. They defeated Hopewell in three games in the first round of the MECKA 4A tournament Oct. 14.

Johnston also named Vanessa Blas, a freshman middle hitter, the team’s captain a few weeks into the season.

“It took awhile for captains to really be solidified,” James said. “We wanted to see how they worked, individually how’s their skill level was and, ultimately, I think the final factor in choosing Vanessa was her skill level and ability on the court.”

However, trying to lead a team while simultaneously being one of its youngest players hasn’t come without its challenges for Blas.

“The transition for Blas has been a learning experience,” James said. “Coming in and trying to learn how to be a captain as a freshman, it’s something that hasn’t been immediately easy. You can have all the knowledge in the world, but there’s still a leadership element. That is something that she’s definitely learned.”

According to James, a strong senior class – the Bulldogs returned five seniors from last year – has been crucial to the team’s success.

“I think that what we have is a solid group of seniors who have just across the board stepped up,” she said. “They came back ready to be successful. Having gone through tough seasons in previous years, I think they were ready to show what they could do. They were excited to have a new program with a new staff. They stepped up in order to help everyone adjust, including us coaches.”

Asked her thoughts about all the changes this season, Ekuban said, “There’s been a lot, but they’ve been good changes. Both of our coaches have a lot of volleyball experience and they’ve been giving us lots of good advice and overall I know that Robinson volleyball is just going to continue to improve.”

Seth Lakso is a freelance writer for Cabarrus News. Have a story idea for Seth? Email him at at sethlakso@gmail.com.

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