LAURINBURG — If you needed to pick five players to represent the kind of volleyball team Scotland had this season, this is the group.
Five Scotland players were named to the SEC All-Conference team earlier this week, and Madeline Milholland earned conference player of the year honors. Along with Milholland, the Scots voted All-Conference were: Katelyn Hunt, Avery Callahan, Ashleigh Bailey and Jessie Kee.
The Scots were eliminated in the second round of the state playoffs in October, and finished with a record of 21-3 overall, and 9-1 in the conference. It was a transitional year for the volleyball squad as they had a new coach and new faces. Mark Barnes stepped down at the end of last season, after holding the coaching role for eight seasons. Then Molly Hayes, who had been an assistant with the program for the last six years, was hired to lead the team.
She was tasked with molding an assorted group of players into an organized team. Only two starters from last season — Milholland and Callahan — returned, as four seniors graduated in the class of 2013. Bailey, the only non-senior of the All-Conference selections, came up to varsity this season while Kee earned a starting role close to the net. Hunt was a new face to the entire school, as she transferred from Marlboro County.
The five were almost always the starters for Scotland this season, and managed to develop a solid chemistry throughout the season. It wasn’t always easy though, Milholland said.
“It took a while for us to get it together, and we had some rough spots,” she said.”
Milholland was the main hitter for the Scots this season as she usually tallied the most kills in each game. This is her second time being named to the All-Conference squad, and first as player of the year. She said it feels good to know that all the hard work in practice paid off.
“I took every chance I had over the summer to work on my game and just get better at volleyball,” Milholland said.
This season gave Milholland, who is planning to play Division II volleyball at the University of Alabama in Huntsville next year, a different sort of challenge. In previous teams there had been taller players, meaning the hitting responsibilities were more spread out. This year, as the tallest player and most-targeted player, Milholland had to work even harder.
“It’s harder being the main hitter because they really mark you, and they’re always looking for you,” Milholland said.
Almost every ball set up for her to kill was set up by Callahan. The senior, who also played softball, was the team’s main setter, meaning the first pass almost always went to her. She would then launch the ball into the air for the hitters to blast over the net. She lead the Scots every game in assists.
Hunt, another of Scotland’s hitters this season, had to make a big adjustment as well. She had been playing as an outside hitter at Marlboro County, but was moved to inside hitter when she joined the Scots. The two positions are very different, Hunt said.
“As an inside hitter you have to adjust to the block, depending on where they are,” Hunt said. Getting the ball over the blockers often meant tipping the ball instead of spiking it.
Hunt is planning to attend Lenoir Community College and keep playing volleyball there.
Kee was one of those blockers — but she was on Scotland’s side of the net. The senior was in her third season of volleyball, but wrestling is in her plans for the future. She has wrestled throughout high school and is deciding to continue her career at either Tennessee or Kentucky, she said.
Bailey will be the only All-Conference selection returning next season for Scotland, and she will likely be a leader as a senior. Callahan’s sister, Kenleigh, saw significant playing time as a hitter this year and will look to continue that next season.