If the fall season is any indication, Quail Hollow Middle School is in for one of its best sports years in recent memory. The Falcons volleyball and golf teams each finished near the top of the Queen City League standings for the first time in years.
The volleyball team finished 9-5 after winning just one match last year. Led by first-year coach Linda Shelton and 13-year-old eighth-grade captains Shelby Lazenby and Julia Walker, the Falcons have won their most matches in recent history.
The golf team had won just one match in the previous two seasons combined under head coach Kelsey Cash, but turned it around this year. The Falcons finished second in the conference, lost only once, to undefeated Community House. The Falcons leading golfer, eighth-grader Brian Dempsey, was the low-score leader in each match this year.
The two teams found success in different ways.
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Shelton is a veteran softball and basketball coach but is new to volleyball. "It was such a better year than last year and the whole atmosphere was so different. We only won once and to win nine games this year was amazing," Walker said. "The whole team was a lot more positive. Last year we did a lot more conditioning than playing and this year was the opposite. It was fun to play on this team."
The school's new late-start bell schedule allowed time in the morning for players to fine-tune skills while bonding. Shelton said she felt the extra time the team spent together made them better.
Lazenby and Walker said it was the coach who set the tone for success.
"She kept us accountable but never got mad at us," said Lazenby. "We knew what she expected from us and we worked really hard to get the most out of ourselves."
Cash's calming influence also led the golf team to its best year ever.
"Our season went really well because we all got to know each other, and on the course we all got better," said eighth-grader Jo Jo Armanini. "When we were able to tie against Mint Hill, it showed that we were a good team and had come a long way."
The team credits Cash with keeping them focused. Cash, a yoga enthusiast, used yoga-themed breathing exercises to help them stay calm and always provided a pre-match quote to help block distractions. One example from pro golfer Sam Snead that stood out to seventh-grader Spencer Patterson was "Forget your opponents; always play against par."
Eighth-grader Bo Blight said Cash was a good coach because she expected a lot from the team and wanted them to be competitive but remembered middle school sports should be fun.
"Golf is a fun sport and it was a great experience," Blight said. "It was really fun to be on this team this year, especially since we were able to win some matches."