High school volleyball: East Rowan will be tougher
Head coach: Retired teacher Sandy Lytton (4th year, 19-50)
2019: 8-16 overall, 0-10 3A North Piedmont Conference (6th)
Playoffs: Lost 1st round to Marvin Ridge
Standouts: Senior setter Zoe Larson and 6-foot-1 sophomore middle hitter Leah Hinceman were All-Rowan County
Key returners: Sophomore libero Riley Hill, senior hitter Mikayla Tucker, senior hitter Hannah Larson
New faces: Junior Kinslee Walker, sophomore Dani Steelman, sophomore Anasty Faavesi
Opening game: At West Rowan, Tuesday
GRANITE QUARRY — East will have a small squad as far as numbers, but Lytton believes the Mustangs can — and will — spring some upsets.
Any North Piedmont Conference victory for East has to be regarded as an upset at this point. East is 0-30 in the NPC since realignment placed East in a six-team league with Carson, West Rowan, South Iredell, North Iredell and Statesville.
That’s not to say the Mustangs have been bad. They’re just in a challenging league. North Iredell, South Iredell and Carson are perennial volleyball powers. And in recent years, West Rowan has emerged as one of 3A’s best teams.
While it was being shut out in the NPC, East has won 19 non-conference matches during the past three seasons. With state playoff berths based heavily on strength of schedule, East has been managing to get into the 3A bracket, albeit as a huge underdog on the road in the first round.
There will be fewer teams in the playoffs in this COVID-shortened season and minimal non-conference games.
Still, it’s hard to dampen Lytton’s enthusiasm. She really likes this team.
” ‘That was then … this is now’ is our theme for the season,” Lytton said.
Hinceman and Hill, two of the younger players, have a chance to become stars in the county and conference.
Hinceman led the Mustangs in kills (190) and blocks (45) as a freshman.
“Leah is getting better every time on the court, and when you’re athletic and tall, the sky is the limit,” Lytton said. “She’ll lead us in hitting and is ready to take on more responsibility defensively.”
Hill led the team in digs (254) and serve-receives as a freshman.
“She is nothing short of spectacular as a libero,” Lytton said. “She will lead us defensively and get us into our system.”
Both Larsons, two members of a set of quadruplets, are dependable players.
Zoe had 493 assists last season, averaging 7 per set.
Hannah can hit or set. She was second on the team in kills last season.
“She has tremendous power on her serves and her swings,” Lytton said.
Faasevi played well when she was promoted from the jayvees late last season.
“She’s a fantastic hitter,” Lytton said. “She proved herself.”
Tucker is a versatile, high-energy player. She was third on the team in kills last fall.
Steelman is smart and will help out in the middle. Lytton praised her court sense.
Walker is a defensive specialist.
East has been to the state playoffs 19 times (the most appearances by any Rowan school), but it’s been a tough lately.
The turnaround has to start sometime. Maybe this is the year.
“We just need to be injury free and healthy,” Lytton said. “The Mustangs have put in the training and are ready for tough conference play. We know we are a good team and any given night could be our night. Heck, this might even be our season. We are that confident.”
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