Catherine Fulton knows exactly how her players feel on the volleyball court.
Fulton was a standout club and high school player at East Henderson High before going on to star at Lenoir-Rhyne, first as an all-conference player and then as an assistant coach for the Bears.
Fulton now is getting used to her new position on the sidelines, as she enters her second year as head coach of the Davidson Day team.
"Volleyball has been my life since I was 10 years old," said Fulton, who is also an assistant athletic director. "I feel like I have a lot of knowledge to share with my players, and at the same time I understand where they are coming from and what they are going through."
Fulton, who guided the Patriots through the South Piedmont Athletic Association to an 8-8 record and a playoff berth in her first season as coach, has bigger expectations this year for a more talented and experienced team.
The Patriots certainly will have more depth: 20 players came out for the team in 2011, after only nine girls filled the roster in 2010.
All-conference outside hitter Jeanine Grabowski leads a potentially potent offense, with sophomore setter Jessi Harris - who was all-conference as freshman - dictating the Patriot attack. Senior middle blocker Jasmine Hamilton will also be a big factor, while junior Kay Funderburk attacks on the outside opposite Grabowski.
Fulton and the Patriots hope steady improvement will get them where they want to be.
"My goal is to improve each practice and each game and get a little more confident each time out," Fulton said.
While Davidson Day looks to be a factor in the SPAA, SouthLake Christian wants to contend for a NCISAA 3A state title after moving up in classification this year.
The defending 2A state champion Eagles (25-2 last year) and coach Rachel Noreika return the core of their 2010 team, led by all-state outside-hitter Katie Shoenrock and all-state middle blocker Kayla Summer.
"Our goal from the beginning will be to win a conference and a state championship," said Noreika.