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North Hall, Lakeview Academy volleyball teams dealing with drastically different levels of experience in 2019
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North Hall's Grace Hollifield (12) spikes the ball during the Class 3A state semifinal game between North Hall and Pace Academy in Gainesville, on Oct. 25, 2017. - photo by David Barnes

Experience can make all the difference in the world when it comes to high school sports, a concept both North Hall volleyball coach Emi Hughes and Lakeview Academy coach Clyde Wylie are familiar with. 

And while the two teams had similar seasons in 2018 — going undefeated in their respective regions and advancing past the first round of the playoffs — the programs’ differing levels of experience are causing each coach to approach the 2019 season differently. 

Hughes’ Lady Trojans enter the year brimming with optimism. Fresh off a state quarterfinal appearance, North Hall brings back seven seniors, with upperclassmen making up more than half the team’s roster. 

“It’s nice to kind of pick up where you left off in a sense, and that’s sort of what we’ve done,” Hughes said. “These seniors know what our ultimate goal is. When you come in with that many seniors, they’re ready because they know what our end game is.”

Hughes said the presence of so many older and experienced players on her roster has done wonders for the development of the team’s younger athletes, giving them an example to follow in preseason preparation. 

Having so many seniors has also helped the group’s focus and drive as the Lady Trojans work toward getting over the hump of making it to a state championship after reaching two semifinals and a quarterfinal over the last three years. 

“One of the things that I like that I’m seeing is that I’ve got girls that are hungry,” Hughes said. I have girls who have been to two Final Fours and an Elite Eight. They’ve had a taste, and they know that that’s what they want. They’re seniors, so this is their last shot.”

Conversely, the Lady Lions will have an almost entirely new roster.

After winning 42 times and a Hall County championship in 2018, Lakeview Academy lost five seniors to graduation, and two other players decided not to return to the team this year. The group includes just two juniors and no seniors. 

Wylie said he’s spent much of the offseason on teaching his team the basics as they get acclimated to the varsity level. 

“It’s a lot of time spent on volleyball IQ and just the basic strategies of varsity level volleyball,” he said. “With the younger girls, they don’t have the terminology, the volleyball vocabulary, so it’s a focal point. We’ve worked a lot on them understanding the things that I am trying to communicate to them and want them to try to do.”

Wylie added that this summer has been different than the past few, but even with such a young group to work with, he remained optimistic about the program’s future. 

“We’re going to be very young, but I think we’ll surprise some people,” he said. “We will still do things well. And I’m especially excited for the future of Lakeview volleyball. We’re going to have an OK year this year, but after this year we’re just going to, I think, get better and better.”

As the season gets underway, volleyball coaches throughout Hall County are coming to terms with the makeup of their rosters. 

Some are filled with experienced players familiar with their teammates and their own skillsets. Others welcome a whole new generation of athletes to the fold, the younger players still getting a hold on varsity level volleyball. 

But no matter the team, every coach and athlete involved in a Hall County volleyball team enters the year full of optimism and excitement.

“There are good teams all over the county that are respected all over the state,” Hughes said. “It makes it fun. These girls want to compete and they want to be best in the county for the bragging rights, if nothing else.”

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