Spartan volleyball turns into contender

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INDIAN TRAIL – In the early years of Rachel Henry’s tenure as Sun Valley’s volleyball coach, times weren’t always rosy.

In fact, when Henry took over in 2010, the Spartans were 3-16. They struggled for a couple of seasons after that, but of late Henry has helped turn a once dormant program into a competitive one in the Southern Carolinas, which is one of the state’s toughest with state powers Marvin Ridge and Charlotte Catholic up top.

But Sun Valley has more than held its own.

Henry has led the Spartans to winning seasons in four of the past five years and in three straight seasons, including this one where the Spartans sit 12-6 after falling to Charlotte Catholic 3-1 on Oct. 4 and Marvin Ridge 3-0 on Oct. 9.

What’s Henry’s secret to success?

“Our focus is on building from the fundamentals up with a high priority on team unity,” she said. “We start with a game plan at the beginning of the season. We work through that game plan even through the tough patches and continue to execute.”

The Spartans have now lost twice to the Cougars (they fell 3-2 in mid September) and twice to Marvin Ridge, but they’re where they want to be.

The Spartans have already avenged losses to Cuthbertson and Parkwood. They sit 6-6 in conference play and in a third-place tie with the Cavs. They’re also mathematically guaranteed a spot in the playoffs.

“We do have one of the toughest conferences in our 3A division,” Henry said. “For us, it’s taking it one game at a time. We have our pre-match plans and we put a priority on prepping for just one match and not looking ahead or back.”

The Spartans are led up front by senior Emiah Burrowes, who is a Tusculum commit and leads the team with 204 digs and has 130 kills.

Sophomore Taylor Parker is a next-level talent, and is second on the Spartans with 194 kills and is also second on the team in three categories including digs (154), service aces (37) and blocks (23).

Senior Kaycee Edwards (151 digs, 99 kills and team-best 38 blocks), and juniors Katie Pressley (team-best 455 assists, 151 digs, 87 kills and a team-high 48 blocks) and Kennedy Rowland (team-high 185 digs) have also stood out.

The Spartans close the year with a home-and-away series at Piedmont on Oct. 11 and at home on Oct. 17

“The biggest strength I see is being able to run our offense,” Henry said. “We have some passes that enable my setters to work all three options. And having that ability to run from pin to pin helps us to throw some blockers off and helps us play well. I think that’s what we’re doing now.”

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