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Region challenges are few and far between for Lady Bulldogs

Posted: August 25, 2011 3:45 p.m.
Updated: August 26, 2011 5:00 a.m.

When former 4A entry Hartsville dropped down and was placed into Region 6-AAA, Camden High volleyball coach Paige Wilson thought the addition of the Red Foxes to circuit would give her team some decent conference competition for the first time in three seasons.

All Hartsville became was more cannon fodder for Wilson and the Lady Bulldogs, who have not lost and/or been challenged in a league match in three years. And sadly (depending on your point of view), this may well be the case again this time around.

"Hartsville has gotten better," Wilson said of the one team which may present a speed bump as to Camden’s run toward a fourth straight 6-AAA tiara. "Hartsville was a good addition to our region. But the rest (of the four remaining region foes) are about the same."

Until Hartsville was brought into the conference, Wilson could have virtually picked her lineup out of hat and still come away with the championship. And while Hartsville made Camden work in their two meetings last year, the song remained the same in what were lopsided pairings against the other four teams in the loop.

Once again, Wilson has not changed her tune or her scheduling strategy in trying to come up with as strong of a non-conference slate as possible to help prepare her team for what has become an annual post-season appearance in the state tournament. This season, CHS will face 4A entries Irmo, Lexington, Lugoff-Elgin and Dutch Fork along with several other smaller school powers while also playing in three in-season tournaments in three different areas of the state.

Wilson said rugged scheduling is necessary to make sure her team is tournament-tough in heading into the post-season.

"I try to get as tough of a schedule as I can since region play really doesn’t help us … it actually hurts us," Wilson said. "We just have to go with it and work even harder because we have fewer matches at the competitive level that we need."

The Lady Bulldogs are coming off a season in which they advanced to the AAA Lower State semifinals, only to fall to eventual state runner-up, Hilton Head.

Wilson greeted an experienced group of players when the team reconvened for the start of practice last month. Camden returned four seniors and five juniors, who will make up the backbone of this year’s squad.

Kelsey Hutto, a fourth-year player, is easily the team’s "Jill of all trades" in her ability to play any position on the court and make a seamless transition to wherever Wilson needs her to play. Classmate Amber Jackson returns at setter and has picked up where she left off a year ago in her decision-making process as to where to distribute the ball.

Seniors Olivia Nash and Brittany Bullard saw valuable playing time last fall along the front row and at defensive specialist, respectively. Both players, Wilson said, have taken their games to the next level and are being counted on to not only help on the floor, but off it as team leaders, as well.

The player whom Camden’s offense may well run through is junior setter/hitter Maggie Speaks. A target of several major Division I programs, Speaks is someone whom Wilson is counting on heavily this fall. In the same breath, however, Wilson said Speaks does not have to be a one-girl gang.

"I do expect a lot from Maggie. She’s started since she was a freshman and has done a lot in (club) ball," she said. "This year, what I think is nice is that we have a lot of good offensive players along with Maggie. Lindsay Cobb is showing tremendous potential as are Kelsey Hutto, Brooke Maxwell and Olivia Nash … they’re all swinging it well up there. That gives us a lot of options. Plus, they’re all playing a solid front row."

Cobb, one of five juniors, is a hitter who has been sidelined this pre-season due to a back injury. Wilson is crossing her fingers in hoping for a speedy recovery from a player who became a force as the season went on last year.

Adry Joseph got her feet wet in varsity competition last year and is more comfortable in her expanded role. Mainly used on defense as a sophomore, Joseph is also being asked to play along the front row as a junior. Brooke Maxwell, like Hutto, is an athletic player who will be used all over the court and has as much ability along the net as she does on the back row.

After having been brought up to the varsity in the second half of the 2010 season due to injuries to starters, junior Danielle Case played well along the front row. Now, more comfortable in her surroundings, she has stepped her game up.

Camden’s one sophomore, Victoria Reyes, will miss this season due to a shoulder injury. "That hurts," Wilson said. "Anytime you lose a player it hurts. Victoria barely got going and was doing so well before the injury."

A pair of freshmen close out the roster including Wilson’s daughter, Morgan, who played on a United States Volleyball Association Developmental Team this past summer. She will be a defensive specialist while classmate Michaela Taylor is a front row player who, Wilson said, is "starting to get used to the faster pace of play" at the varsity level.

"I feel good going in with the potential this team has," Wilson said of her 11-player squad. "They’re working hard. They seem to click and gel together. They get along well. We have some talent out there.

"I think that we’ll be competitive all the way around. We have some hitters, but I hope that we’ll be savvy on defense."

"Early on, Wilson said that her team’s long suit may well be its offense and net play. But she pointed out that the Lady Bulldogs are working hard in all areas of the game, particularly in passing and serve-receive.

"There’s always room for improvement in that area, but we’re working real hard to show a little more defensive scrappiness," she said.

With a core group of players which has enhanced their playing ability in the fall by playing club volleyball throughout the year and brings that experience to high school ball with them, Wilson said her team has set its sights on making what has become an annual trip to the AAA post season.

Wilson said, as always, the Lady Bulldogs have basics goals which they want to meet.

"To go as far as we can go," she said when asked of the goals for 2011. "Ideally, you want to get into the state playoffs and once you’re there, we want to play hard and play our best and go as far as we can go and ultimately, make it all the way to (the) state (championship match.)

"We just want to keep getting better and be peaking once we get to the playoffs."

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