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Defense still main focus for Lady Demons

Posted: September 3, 2013 1:04 p.m.
Updated: September 4, 2013 5:00 a.m.

Looking young enough to still be a player rather than a seasoned third-year head coach, Jessica Mullins, hardly bats an eye when she talks about some of the blows which her Lugoff-Elgin volleyball squad endured since their final match of last season.
There was nothing Mullins could do in losing four seniors, including four-year letterwinner and starting Libero, Megan Kirkland, to graduation. She knew that was coming and was a fact of life long before the former Camden High standout took over at L-E in 2011. The wrench in the works came when returning All-Region 4-4A middle hitter, Sarah Cashion, suffered an off-season shoulder injury.
“That hurts us, a lot, at the net,” Mullins said of Cashion’s injury and shift in her playing position. “But we’re going to use her as a setter.
Still, Mullins was unfazed when talking about her team and how the goals and expectations of the program remain unchanged. That shows the stability of a program which has made a seamless transition to the 4A level after having been bumped up from the AAA ranks prior to Mullins’ first go ‘round in 2011.
“Our goal is to always win state,” she said two days after her team finished second to Aiken in the Carolina Forest per-season tournament on Aug. 24. “This year, we have a really good chance to be region champions. We hope that we can achieve that this year.”
What could be an omen of good things to come this season came in the form of Cashion’s being a quick healer. After what was thought to be a season-ending injury, after having undergone surgery, Cashion was “green lighted” to return to the court, albeit in a new role. Rather than returning to her two-year starting post at middle hitter, she will now play as a right side hitter and maybe be asked to do some setting in order to be less taxing on her shoulder.
Cashion, however, is not the only Lady Demon who was and/or is nursing an injury. In fact, she is not the only middle hitter lost in the pre-season. Senior Allison Hyman has been hobbled by a sprained ankle and Mullins does not anticipate her returning to the fold for several weeks. Plus, there are the nagging injuries which come with the territory when playing a physically demanding sport such as volleyball.
“We do have a couple injuries, which are hurting us right now,” Mullins said. “We’re just waiting on those to heal.”
The middle hitter spot is currently being occupied by tested senior Hannah Cole and junior Ambryanna Moore, who just started playing volleyball a year ago.
Senior Kayla Carraway, a two-time letterwinner, and classmate Taylor Rawl will play at outside hitter along with junior Savannah Ochoa, while Cashion and senior India Tucker will line up on the right side.
Taylor Mullins, who settled in nicely after transferring to L-E last year, returns to dole out passes from her setter’s post with junior Claire Yount also playing that role. Juniors Kensley Jordan, Sarah Beth Messer and Aubrey Edgerton are locked in at Libero with Edgerton also listed as a setter.
Mullins would not divulge a starting rotation, given the injury situation. She did say, however, that she expects the seniors to play a prominent role both on and off the court. And, with eight players on the 13-player roster boasting varsity experience, Mullins said the spring and pre-season practices went along without a hitch, save for injuries.
“We did lose four girls last year, but we were able to bring some girls up from jayvee who have really filled those spots,” Mullins said about the turnover in personnel and the talent on this year’s team.
“With so many familiar faces, though, it went pretty smoothly.”
Unlike some programs, L-E practices its varsity and junior varsity teams together. That move has paid off in the past as Mullins has shown she is not afraid to bring up a jayvee player in the middle of the varsity campaign if that player can help out in any way.
“We practiced jayvee and varsity together last year and I think that has helped make the transition smoother,” she said of her team’s good chemistry. “Also, having three of those girls being brought up to the varsity last year makes it easier for them to get used to the varsity game.”
Not having a string of six-foot or taller players, the Lady Demons will once again rely on keeping the ball in play rather than shortening the game with a set and a smash. In that respect, nothing has changed as to the style which Mullins will, again, ask her team to play.
“We definitely have to focus on defense, that’s going to be our strongest point again this year,” she said. “We don’t have much height.  Our main strength here is defense and it has always been that way.”
Defense helped the Lady Demons to a runner-up finish at the Carolina Forest tourney in which they defeated Wando and split with Aiken in pool play en route to punching their ticket into the finale. Starting the season off with an impressive showing like that, Mullins said, helped with her team’s confidence and morale.
“We saw improvement there,” she said of L-E’s performance along the Grand Strand. “We just hope that we can keep improving.”
The tournament showed the potential which this group of Lady Demons has for 2013. It was also something which Mullins needed to see out of her squad after a pair of sub-par showings in scrimmages.
“There are always weaknesses,” she said, when asked what areas her team needed to sharpen. “With girls’ sports, you have a lot of emotions. We have to learn to work together as a team. We struggled in our first two scrimmages doing that; working as a team and working together. But we’ve seen improvement with each scrimmage, which has helped.”
On the heels of last season, when L-E advanced to the second round of the 4A state tourney before falling to perennial state power Dorman, Jessica Mullins said her team needs to go back to work and try to improve on that this time around.
“Expectations are always high for us,” she said. “We have been known to have good seasons and a good team here at Lugoff-Elgin. We hope that will continue this year.”

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