University City

Ending the merry-go-round for Vance volleyball

Vance High’s volleyball team has had more coaches than its had wins over the last four years, and the perception of the Cougars’ program has suffered as a result.

Those are all areas that new Vance head coach Troy Whitehurst wants to change: the merry-go-round of coaches off the court, the lack of success on it, and the way the Cougars are viewed by the students and alumni.

“The biggest challenge is having a cohesiveness to the team, getting them to play together,” Whitehurst said. “These are teenage girls … and some of them may understand the game, but there’s things that they haven’t been shown about the game.”

Whitehurst takes over a Vance volleyball program that has gone through five coaches over the past four years and hasn’t won a varsity match since early in the 2008 season.

“The better teams, their coaches have the opportunity to build a program,” Whitehurst said. “When you take over a program that’s been losing, you’re not going to change that in a couple of weeks. It takes a little bit of time to change that mindset.”

It wasn’t always like that for the Cougars. They’ve advanced to the N.C. High School Athletic Association 4A playoffs seven times since the school opened in 1997, but not since 2003.

“Since I’ve been here, volleyball’s a sport … that’s not really known in the school, and it should be,” said senior Maya Hall, one of the team’s captains and a four-year varsity player. “We really don’t have that student support.”

Whitehurst doesn’t look like a volleyball coach – he’s built more like a football running back – but he played the sport in college at the intramural level. He is glued to his TV whenever the high-level college and international matches are on the sports networks.

“I’m a student of the game,” Whitehurst said. “Even as a little kid, it was a sport that I always liked. I still know how to set the ball, and I know how to dig a little bit. I can still get on the floor after a ball.

“I never really thought about coaching (volleyball) … but I’ve always been a motivational kind of guy, and I’m always researching ways to get better – different drills and stuff like that.”

Whitehurst has spent most of his time with the varsity and junior varsity teams working on agility and footwork drills – which he said translates directly from basketball – and the fundamentals of the game.

But there’s also that mindset that Whitehurst is trying to change among the Cougars’ players: a change that he said is already having positive results.

“It’s like he’s more invested in us than other coaches in the past have been,” Hall said. “I appreciate that a lot. It doesn’t feel like I’m dealing with a complete stranger.

“We’re starting to play together more, where in past years it’s never been like that. It’s like we’re bound together, like a sisterhood. It hasn’t been like that in a while.”

There have already been some signs of improvement in Vance’s volleyball program. The varsity is still winless (0-6 as of Sept. 9), but the JV team won its first match of the season against West Charlotte on Sept. 3.

“Oh, that was so overwhelming,” said freshman hitter Ahriana Edwards, a captain on the JV squad who also sees some playing time with the varsity. “It was exciting for me … and all the girls were so happy. I felt like I made a difference. Last year, they didn’t win any games, so to win that one game made a difference.”

Said Hall: “I saw their excitement, and it made me excited to see them that hyped up. Like she said: overwhelming.”

And that’s encouraging to Whitehurst as well.

“I see that they’re buying into my coaching philosophy: togetherness, encouraging each other and staying motivated,” Whitehurst said. “Regardless of what the scoreboard says, as long as we’re improving every week, the wins are going to come.”