LAURINBURG — Despite finishing second in the Southeastern Conference last season, the Scotland volleyball team endured a bit of a rebuilding year under coach Molly Hayes.
The previous year, the Scots finished 20-3 and won the conference by two games. In 2014, Hayes’s squad finished 13-11 and 7-3 in the SEC, placing second in the standings behind Pinecrest. The team did qualify for the the NCHSAA playoffs, but were bounced in the first round by Ragsdale.
Hayes cited youth as a contributing factor to Scotland’s inconsistencies, as five freshmen saw regular playing time. With a year of experience under their belts, the Scots’ coaching staff is expecting improved play across the board.
“We’re coming back more unified this year,” Hayes said. “The girls hang out together, they get along well, just being more of a team this year and not having that conflict of not knowing each other well on the court. I think it shows on the court, when they’re more in system and more together.”
Scotland returns three of four starters that earned all-SEC honors last season — senior Kaitlin Lewis, junior Emma Gray Beacham and sophomore Nahir Pegues. The other starter was Ashleigh Bailey, who leaves a big void at the libero position now that she has moved on from the program.
But Hayes said after Thursday’s scrimmage against Marlboro Academy that sophomore Mason Roberts has played admirably in her stead during the preseason.
“Mason Roberts has improved tremendously in her back row,” Hayes said. “She has big shoes to fill coming in Ashleigh’s spot and she’s playing wonderfully.”
The Scots practiced for two hours against the Bennettsville program — both teams played a couple of warm up games before taking the court for a best-of-three match. Scotland won the first set 25-20, then Marlboro rebounded to win the second 25-20. The Scots pulled away in the decisive third game, winning 15-7.
Scotland began preseason work after school ended in June, and Hayes said she has seen noticeable growth in several players, returning and newcomers alike.
Fresh faces like Kenleigh Callahan and Maggie Leviner have proven they will be vital cogs to the team with their performances in summer practices.
“They’re really learning quickly, and they’re doing a good job when I put them in. They passed well tonight, and I thought they all did well.”
The Pegues sisters, Nahir and Amaya, are two sophomores that showed a lot of promise in between the lines last year, and they flashed their athleticism on the front line during the scrimmage match.
“They’ve grown just in their ability to understand the game, their ability to jump, swing, hit, and they’re stronger and faster,” Hayes said. “I’m very pleased with the progress they’ve had from one year to the next, it’s quite an impressive turnaround.”
Hayes said that while she is happy with the depth of her team, she will lean on her two upperclassmen to lead them going forward — Lewis and Beacham.
Beacham is a “leader, knows the defense and rotations,” according to Hayes, and Lewis, who was named the team’s Most Improved Player last season, is a “huge part of our offense” and is “vocal and encouraging to the girls.”
Scotland will participate in the Jack Britt Jamboree Saturday in its final preseason tune-up before hosting Whiteville in the regular season opener on Tuesday.
Logan Martinez can be reached at 910-506-3170. Follow him on Twitter @L_Martinez13.