Defending champ Cougars eager to see impact of changes for volleyball season

Coley Shiflet is bound to be a key player again for Southwestern Randolph’s volleyball team. (File photo)

Southwestern Randolph gears up for volleyball season after 2021 state title

ASHEBORO — Southwestern Randolph’s volleyball team has a few different components this season.

There will be a new offensive make-up and a key transfer with the Cougars.

But one thing they don’t want to change is the rate of success.

“There’s a lot of excitement in our gym,” coach Darby Kennedy said. “They want to hold onto the title and defend that title.”

Southwestern Randolph is the reigning Class 2-A state champion.

Kennedy said that the core of the defensive unit has been in place since a year ago, but there will be shifting responsibilities from an offensive standpoint. 

“It’s interesting because we went from having a strong offensive structure for the past few years,” she said. “Now the ball is going to be shared a lot more.”

The first match of the season comes Aug. 17 in a non-league encounter at Asheboro.

It’s a matter of Southwestern Randolph putting the pieces together, and there’s a good foundation for that.

Junior Coley Shiflet, the Most Valuable Player of the state final, is the libero. She’s joined by defensive specialist Carleigh Whitson, a senior. 

Sophomore middle blocker Riley Key might show an upgraded offensive side, while outside hitter Madelyn Smith is a reliable factor. Sophomore outside hitter Gracie Hodgin, an All-Piedmont Athletic Conference selection last year and the daughter of school principal Brian Hodgin, has transferred from Wheatmore and provides good power along with solid service receptions.

Coach Darby Kennedy will hope to direct the Cougars to another special season. (File photo)

“We’re young in the middle,” Kennedy said. “We’ve got some kids who are a little less experienced at some key positions.”

Payton Shiflet and Josie Allred, who were seniors on last season’s 28-5 team, sparked much of the offense.

More responsibilities could fall on the setters in the restructured offense.

“Our strategy has to change so we can be successful all the way around,” Kennedy said. “The more they work on that, I think they’ll gain that confidence and make sure they’re building that chemistry. We’re working on finding that consistency in a new offensive structure.”

The list of potential difference makers also includes senior Julie Johnston and junior Alyssa Harbor.

With such a strong foundation, Southwestern Randolph could be a team capable of another season of excellence.

Molly Smith of Southwestern Randolph’s volleyball team sets the ball during Saturday’s multi-team scrimmage at Wheatmore High School. (PJ Ward-Brown/Randolph Record)

“We’ve had a lot of conversations about that you win a state championship, and that’s exciting,” Kennedy said. “You get back in the gym and have to start over. We’re always had girls who are willing to work. They’ve been putting their time in. Now it’s a matter of connecting it all together.”

The Cougars ought to learn more this weekend in a multi-team scrimmage in Raleigh that will also include the 2021 Class 3-A and Class 4-A state champions and several other established teams.

Closer to home, the Cougars will be aiming to regenerate the level of enthusiasm that built throughout last season.

“The games ought to be exciting with people flying all over the place,” Kennedy said.

By Bob Sutton