Midway volleyball's newest set of leaders talk expectations following the season-opening win Monday.
SPIVEY’S CORNER — If Monday’s season opener was any precursor, Midway volleyball is in good hands as its newest set of leaders emerge.
Blair Baggett slides into the captain role vacated by the graduation of Rylie Williams, the Lady Raiders’ top kills artist a year ago.
After a breakout junior campaign, the high-energy upperclassman is poised to follow Williams’ footsteps in hopes of guiding another dominating squad.
“I really look up to her (Williams) and how she led, because she led us with such class but she got her point across,” Baggett said following the 3-1 home win over Cleveland.
That’s how I kind of try to be as a senior this year and as a captain.”
Baggett, who ended with a team-high eight kills and was second with 16 digs, added that one of her biggest goals is to include everybody and be encouraging. A large part of this strategy is becoming a quasi-cheerleader that helps everyone have fun and not put too much pressure on themselves.
Fortunately enough for Baggett, the majority of Midway’s 18-5, Southeastern Athletic Conference-winning club returns this fall. The Lady Raiders made their first fourth-round appearance in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association state playoffs since 2002 and are primed for sticky situations like the one-set deficit to 4A class Cleveland on Monday.
Baggett credits much-needed positive reinforcement in turning around the match as she and her teammates celebrated each point while taking the next three frames – 25-22, 25-22 and 25-16.
“We were (looser) and we were cheering each other on the whole time,” she said. “That’s what I think pulled us through.”
Midway (1-0) coach Susan Clark is well aware of the talent and experience her current roster possesses, noting that lineup alterations could be a weekly sighting and matchup-dependent.
A backline adjustment against Cleveland following the first set was a tactic she thought provided a timely spark defensively.
“Tonight, I saw a lot of grit. I saw a lot of heart. I saw a lot of hustle. And that’s the difference in a ball game,” Clark said.
Junior libero McKenzie Williams, who totaled a team-pacing 38 digs, got help from veterans and youngsters alike to foil the visitors’ hard-swinging attempts.
Seniors Jaycie Byrd and Mallory Baggett combined for 18 digs, while promising freshman Kaedyn Moran chipped in with 11 of her own.
Meanwhile, another of the team’s emerging standouts – junior middle hitter Morgan Hall – was entrenched in an early-season test that figures to be of use later this year.
Hall had multiple moments at the net with Cleveland’s Alayah Robertson, who led the Greater Neuse River Conference with 114 total blocks and was second with 239 kills last season.
“In practice, we don’t have anybody swinging nearly as hard. So I can’t practice my blocks and timing,” said Hall, a first-team All-Record performer in 2021 after registering the most blocks and second-most kills among SAC-7 players.
“And having to get around her (Robertson), it really boosted my confidence.”
The lanky Lady Raider set the tone with a block on Robertson early in the third set to break a 1-all tie, and later used a tip shot to give Midway a 24-22 advantage that ultimately led to deciding the frame.
In lockstep with her senior captain, a mild-tempered Hall recognizes the importance of being a guiding force for Moran and other younger teammates this season.
“I got pulled up my freshman year for two games and I was scared to death. Literally, I didn’t want to touch the court,” she said.
“So, I know for her (Moran), she has to be scared. So I just try to keep her uplifted.”
Moving forward, both Hall and Baggett see the season-opening victory as a confidence booster and a small step towards what they want to be a long journey that spills into November.
Clark is wary to put the proverbial "cart before the horse" after just one win, but is confident her bunch can withstand the various variables that possibly lie ahead.
“Honestly, I’ve always said that they can do anything that they put their minds to,” she said. “When they are loose, and they are positive and happy, they can accomplish anything.
Midway picks up its 2022 slate Wednesday, traveling to Triton for another nonconference tilt.
Donnell Coley can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 910-230-2040.