Going into this year’s volleyball playoffs, the Newton-Conover Red Devils knew what they could achieve. It started Thursday night with a 3-0 (25-5, 25-16, 25-14) win at home over Wilkes Central in the first round of the 2-A West playoffs.
The level of confidence, however, is higher in 2010 than it was in 2009.
“Last year, we made it to the fourth round, but we had no idea we were going to go that far,” junior Corbin Evans said. “I think we should have gotten past that round, but we just weren’t a team. This year, we are a team, and I think we’ll go very far.”
The 2009 season ended in the 2-A West region semifinal with a 3-2 loss to North Surry, which beat Bandys in the previous round.
With knowledge about how good they really are, the Red Devils improved their level of commitment to the goal. The goal: state championship.
“This year, we had it in our minds and really tried to focus on our goal this season and keeping ourselves reminded of it in practice or before games,” junior Isabella Zaliagiris said.
That commitment in 2010 involved curfews for players on Friday and Saturday nights. Newton-Conover volleyball players must leave a football game at halftime, and they don’t stay out late Saturday nights.
“It’s hard, but volleyball is one of the shortest sports seasons,” senior Paris Wicklin said. “It’s only three months of that, then this is going to be over, and we’ll have all the time we need.”
Newton-Conover rolled through the regular season and conference tournament like a freight train, and it stood head and shoulders above the competition. Three players on the team — Zaliagiris, Evans and Wicklin — stand head and shoulders above their teammates.
Zaliagiris, a junior, is the tallest at 6-foot-2; Evans, a junior, is 5-foot-11; and Wicklin, a senior, is the shortest of the three at 5-foot-10. All three try to start intimidating opponents before the start of the match.
“We try to warm up and be pumped up and loud and scare people,” Zaliagiris said. “We try to get in our opponents’ heads before it even starts.”
Newton-Conover head coach Linda Richards called all three “great players.” But she said they wouldn’t be as good without the help of the defense and setters.
The most improved player this season is setter Sarah Van Horn. Wicklin and Evans set the ball in 2009, but Van Horn improved this season with her passing ability.
“She definitely hustles a lot, and when she is down, then the whole team is down,” Evans said. “I feel like she puts the team together with her setting.”
The Red Devils also improved their defense on the back line every day in practice against its powerful offense, Evans said.
Newton-Conover now puts its potent offense, improved defense and commitment to the test in a road match. The Red Devils play Tuesday in the second round against Mountain Heritage, the No. 1 team from the Western Highlands conference.
The Newton-Conover Red Devils finished the volleyball season undefeated in conference play, and they also took down North Iredell, which only lost one set the entire season, the night before the conference tournament started. Then they beat Bandys at home Tuesday in the conference tournament final for the second-straight season.
“We knew Bandys would be a hard game for us, but I think we were confident in being conference champs,” Newton-Conover senior Paris Wicklin said. “I would say our offense was better than any other team in the conference, which helped us as well.”