The stands were jam-packed for the Scotland varsity volleyball’s three-game sweep over rival Pinecrest on “Senior Night” several weeks ago, which sealed an eighth-consecutive conference championship for the Fighting Scots.
Amongst those in attendance was the Sycamore Lane Middle School volleyball squad, who perhaps caught a glimpse into the future should many of the girls continue their current path.
But in the meanwhile, the lady Bucks have their own milestone to celebrate. With their victory over Rockingham Middle School in straight sets (25-16, 25-13, 25-14) one week ago, Sycamore Lane earned its fourth-straight Southeastern Division Championship, a feat that’s rarely, if ever, been matched by any middle school athletic program in Scotland County.
Over this championship span, the lady Bucks have compiled a 38-3 record.
“It makes me feel accomplished to know that I’ve helped win two championships since I’ve been with this team,” said Sycamore Lane eighth grader Emma Gray Beacham, who led her team and the Eastern Conference in kills this season by averaging more than seven a game. Beacham has already expressed her desire to take her game to the next level with the lauded Fighting Scots volleyball program in the coming years.
“Winning here makes me want to be a leader at an even higher level, because I can help my teammates improve as well as myself,” she said.
When high schools schedule tryouts, the athletes that attend almost always have experience spanning years in their respective sport.
At the middle school level, however, coaches are often tasked with not only guiding a team through the rigors of a season, but also teaching the fundamentals of a sport as well.
The 2012 volleyball season at Sycamore Lane was no different for Adam Romaine, who entered his seventh season as the coach of the Lady Bucks. Sycamore Lane only returned one starter (Beacham) from last season, and 10 of the 12-players on the roster were unproven seventh grade students.
“Middle school coaches are a different breed, because we get kids that are new to a sport and have to teach them a skill in a quick enough manner to compete,” said Romaine, who spends his off-seasons attending clinics and observing other school’s volleyball programs. “I have my players just four weeks before the season starts, so it’s important that we teach the importance of discipline right from the start. These kids learn to be disciplined and they’ll be rewarded with wins on the court.”
Sycamore Lane volleyball practices involved two hour sessions which occurred four days a week and focused on what Romaine calls “the most important aspects of volleyball:” Passing, setting and hitting the ball. In addition to a variety of passing drills that he himself participates in, Romaine also instills what has become a Sycamore Lane volleyball trademark over the past four seasons.
The low-driving underhand serve, which gives students who haven’t developed the upper-body strength of their older peers a chance to serve effectively and earn points for their team.
In her first-ever season with the lady Bucks, Sycamore Lane seventh grader Kandon Luquer perfected the underhand serve and has been one of the fastest-rising players on Romaine’s team.
“I didn’t know much about volleyball at first, but coach Romaine has really helped me become more confident as a player,” Luquer said. Along with Luquer, Romaine also sees seventh graders Mason Roberts, Macie Gibson and the Pegues sisters (Nahir and Amaya) as cornerstones for the team next season.
“I know I can get even better at volleyball next year and in high school if I work hard and put my mind to it,” she said.
The winning culture established by the Sycamore Lane volleyball program gains even more importance when one glimpses at the ultimate goal of middle school academics: Building a solid foundation for students. And in addition to showing his team a higher level of play, Romaine brought the lady Bucks to Scotland’s Senior Night to give players a goal to strive for.
A goal that, in the lady Bucks’ case, begins at the middle school level.
“There’s a great volleyball program right around the corner from us, and after the game a lot of my girls expressed a desire to play for Scotland,” said Romaine, who has coached Scotland volleyball stars such as Caroline Pridgen and TeBorah Hollingsworth during his time with Sycamore Lane.
“They get a taste of winning championships here, and it’ll make them want to keep playing and preparing for the next level, which is what our goal is as teachers and coaches,” he said.