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Beat goes on; gets louder for NC volleyball squad

Posted: August 22, 2018 1:38 p.m.
Updated: August 24, 2018 1:00 a.m.
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FIELDING A TEAM with just one substitute has not been a problem for North Central volleyball coach Andy Johnson who, in 2018, has a seven-player squad of tested veterans.

Keeping both parents and players happy is a tightrope walk for most coaches. All players want to get playing time and most parents want their children to be part of a team by residing somewhere other than on the bench.

Andy Johnson had that problem covered last fall.

Johnson, the uber-successful volleyball coach at North Central, had a seven-player roster last year. Playing time was abundant for a team which stayed relatively free from injury and illness and had just one player to keep both Johnson and assistant coach Nicole Gainey company on the sidelines during matches.

Playing with a razor-thin bench, all the Lady Knights would do was to fashion an 11-1 regular season Region 4-AA record only to lose a tie-breaking title match to Buford. Johnson’s all-underclassmen squad would advance to the second round of the AA Upper State tournament only to lose to Southside Christian in a four-set battle.

The Lady Knights return all seven players, including AA All-State and Region 4-AA player of the year in freshman outside hitter Alayna Johnson, to a squad which looks to be loaded for bear or, any other animal of the forest or, jungle.

“We have high expectations, just like we did last year, but we have even higher expectations,” Johnson said of the 2018 season. “I told the girls last week that we were further along than teams in years past just with having the core group back together.”

Rather than rebuild in 2017, Johnson reloaded following a 2016 campaign in which his program lost eight seniors to graduation while having another key player transfer to a new school. Led by Johnson’s daughter Alayna, four other Lady Knights earned all-conference honors last fall. Junior Libero Peyton Holley, senior hitter McKenna Arrants, junior hitter Madison Dixon and junior setter Aaliyah White are all back in the fold after being selected to the All-Region 4-AA squad while junior hitter Tierra Preston and sophomore middle hitter Rhi Hendrix were on the cusp of being accorded postseason laurels last season.

The return of an entire roster from a 15-5 team has Johnson sporting a smile these days. It also led to smooth offseason and preseason practices.

“We do a lot of training now. We don’t do a lot of teaching,” he said of the practice regimen. “Every once in a while, we’ll throw something new in but, most of the time, it’s a lot of training.

“They already know the terminology that we use and they know what is expected out of them. Now, it’s fine-tuning and reps when we come into the gym.”

Another thing which has not changed in Boonetown is that the Lady Knights will continue to compete on every ball played. “Whether that means winning matches of, winning points and, winning matches is always nice,” Johnson said, “we did well as far as training goes in this early part of the season.”

Another reason for optimism at North Central is that more help is on the way for the winningest program at the school over the past decade-plus. 

“We’re excited about this season,” said Johnson of a program which has a solid group of freshmen comprising most of a 12-player junior varsity squad. “Hopefully, we’ll be back to the numbers that we’ve had here in the past.”

Lady Knights sweep past RELA in opener: Receiving 14 kills from Alayna Johnson and 29 assists from White, North Central opened its 2018 campaign with a three-set sweep of  visiting Robert E. Lee Academy on Tuesday night at The Castle in Boonetown.

NC won the opener, 25-14, before bringing the evening to an early end with a 25-15 and a 25-19 victory.

In addition to her 14 kills, Johnson had 10 digs, five service aces and a block. White added six digs, an ace and a a kill to go along with her 29 assists.

Dixon had a nine-kill, eight-dig, four aces night while Arrants had six kills, a pair of aces and a block. Holley came up with 13 digs while adding four aces, a kill and an assist. Hendrix had three kills and two digs with Preston contributing five digs, an assist and one kill.

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