Sandi Skidmore still doesn't feel like she's really left North Mecklenburg.
The former Vikings volleyball coach returned to what had been her home gym for 11 years last week for the first time since taking the coaching job at Hough.
"It's like I'm home, but at the same time it's not. It's a weird feeling," said Skidmore sitting at North Meck's gym last week.
The Huskies gave their coach's former team a run for the money, coming back from a 2-0 deficit to win back-to-back sets and force a fifth. But at the end of the night, the Vikings took the match, outscoring Hough 1-15 in the final set to earn their second win of the season.
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Hough's opening is starting to change the landscape in the area, as North Meck, a traditional volleyball powerhouse, has struggled this season after the Cornelius school split the talent pool at the school and at Hopewell.
While the Vikings graduated half of last year's 25-3 team and lost four other players to Hough, the Titans return the large majority of last year's squad that was 23-6 and finished second in the conference. They are favored to win the I-Meck this season.
Hough is young, and even though the team has shown some promise, it's still a work in progress.
With a 4-3 record (as of Sept. 10), Skidmore said her Huskies could be doing better.
But having only four players with previous varsity experience, Skidmore said she's had to take it slow and get players up to par.
"Some of the mistakes they are making are understandable," she said. "I think we're playing well - I've already seen lots of improvement."
Skidmore explained that her team has made a lot of judgment mistakes, but she said they should continue to get better as the season progresses and her players have time to get used to playing together.
Although Skidmore has many former Vikings on her roster, she admits that the most challenging aspect of starting out a new program has been accessing the talent on her team and figuring out how to make what she has work together.
"I have a mesh of kids from different places," she said. "Trying to find where everybody needs to play has been the hardest thing."
Setter Nichole Hero, who moved to the area from Virginia, as well as former North Meck varsity players Kaylin Overcash and Katherine Kennedy, have played well for the Huskies.
Skidmore has been impressed by how quickly her players have bonded, but also by how they've pushed each other to get better.
Hough lost in straight sets to Hopewell, which Skidmore believes is the team to beat in the I-Meck, two weeks ago.
"They'll probably top the conference," she said.
The Titans (11-0, 5-0 in the I-Meck) are by far the favorites to take this season's I-Meck championship. That's even more of the case after the team defeated arguably their biggest threat in the conference, Lake Norman, 3-1 last week.
The Wildcats are the only team so far that has given Hopewell any problem, being the only opponents to have won a set against the Titans.
Coach Rhonda Auman said having someone challenge the team is good for her team, especially down the road.
"We needed to lose one and figure out what it's like to walk on the other side and come back," she said.
Returning all but one starter from last year, Auman has high hopes for her experienced and motivated crew.
"We want to take care of business and win this conference," she said, adding she hopes her team can also win the conference tournament and make it far into the 4A playoffs.
The deep Hopewell team has been led by Hannah Early, who Auman said has excelled at setting the tempo for the Titans, as well as by seniors Adrian Eppley, Carolina Hughes and Dallas Burnette.
Auman has been impressed by outside hitter Rachel Eppley's play.
"When the game is on the line, that sophomore steps up, does the right pass, does the right hit," said Auman.
How far the team will go will largely depend on how the Titans keep playing and whether the team can remain healthy.
"But we also have to make sure we're having fun," said Auman. "When you enjoy the game, it shows in the way you play."
The defending I-Meck champions lost a lot of talent this offseason.
The Huskies not only lost graduating seniors and some key player to Hough, but they also are without a majority of last year's Vikings' JV team. The new North Meck head coach, Collin Springer, doesn't want to lower his expectations or even think of his team as being in rebuilding mode this season.
"You play with what you got and do your best," the former Cannon coach said.
Springer said that his team, which is 3-7 (3-2 in the I-Meck), has already started to show improvement.
"We're working toward a goal, and we're starting to get there," said Springer. "I love my team and I like what I see."
North Meck has been led this year by captains Izzy Piedmonte and Cameron Van Noy. The seniors are the only players on the current Vikings' squad who had previous varsity experience.
Although Springer's team didn't get off to the start it had hoped, they have done relatively well in conference. The coach hopes his team can continue to improve as it heads down the stretch.
"I'd like to have more wins than losses, but we're going to get there," said Springer. "All I can ask for is for my girls to leave it all on the line every single night - to give 100 percent every single point."