TROUTMAN—The 25-17, 27-25, 25-20 loss at Marvin Ridge last year in the second round of the N.C. High School Athletic Association 3A state playoffs ended South Iredell’s season.

But it did something else beside that. It opened eyes to the possibilities for 2019.

“Were we disappointed we lost that second set after (leading)?” Vikings coach Megan Skouby asked rhetorically. “Yeah. But I was extremely proud of how they played. They gave Marvin Ridge one of the toughest games they had throughout the playoffs.”

The Mavericks didn’t lose a single set in six playoff victories and punctuated a 44-2 season with the 3A state title.

To her credit, setter Malina Harris said after the four-set, first-round victory over North Piedmont Conference rival North Iredell that the Vikings weren’t going to be intimidated by Marvin Ridge.

They’re bringing that same bravado back this season.

“Everybody is driven to win and work hard,” junior outside hitter Marissa Meyerhofer said.

South Iredell returns four of six starters from a 19-8 squad.

Harris, a senior, and Meyerhofer are among those. Both were All-County selections a year ago, as was senior outside hitter Taylor Osborne. Senior libero Ali Warren also returns to anchor the back row defense and serve receive.

“I'm so excited,” Meyerhofer said. “I think we have a lot of players that can do a lot of different things, and that gives us a lot of options to run some cool stuff (on offense).”

Emily Long was that kind of versatile asset a year ago. She set the ball when Harris was sidelined with an injury, and she picked up some offensive slack as a hitter when Meyerhofer nursed an injury of her own.

Long, a starter, was also a strong defensive contributor. But she graduated and is a freshman on the Georgia College volleyball team.

“Emily was a player that could step in and play several positions,” Skouby said. “We have the talent that can step in and fill that role.”

Harris piggybacked on the aforementioned sentiments, highlighting the fact that the nucleus of this Vikings team has been playing together for a while.

“So we have that camaraderie,” Harris said. “We have that fire.

“We're competitive and we're going to push each other. Whoever is on the court, we’re going to fight for them.”

The Vikings open the season Wednesday at home against St. Stephens. They travel to Charlotte on Friday and Saturday to compete in the Best of the Carolinas Invitational.

On Sept. 17 South Iredell begins NPC play at home against Statesville.

Last season, the Vikings finished 5-5 and fourth in the league. They were among four of the NPC’s top-10 ranked 3A teams in the state for a large portion of the 2018 campaign.

South Iredell was 1-3 during the regular season against NPC co-champs Carson and West Rowan but those four combined matches all went to five sets. A second five-set victory over West Rowan sent the Vikings to the NPC tournament title match. They were the runner-up to Carson.

Harris and Co. expect it to be another challenging run through the NPC gauntlet.

“Every game is a big game,” she said.

The rest of the NPC

West Rowan tied for the NPC regular-season title a year ago and has all of its key players back, including reigning NPC player of the year Tori Hester, a 5-foot-10 senior outside hitter. The Falcons should be considered the early favorite.

Carson, co-champion with West Rowan, took a bit of a hit, losing its top hitter and digger in Mallory Weast, as well as its setter. But the Cougars have been a force to be reckoned ever since their first of back-to-back 3A state finals appearances in 2012.

North Iredell graduated three seniors—Mackie Allen (Catawba Valley C.C.), Anna Jordan (Lenoir-Rhyne) and Taylor Travis. Each played important roles in the Raiders’ run to the 2017 3A state championship.

The Raiders have good varsity experience returning at some key positions though: middle hitter Karli Gray, right side hitter Mayson James and setter Caitlin Guzik.

Led by setter/middle blocker Madison Dagenhart, the R&L County Player of the Year, and outside hitter Aasia McNeill, Statesville was as good a fifth-place conference team as you probably could have found in the state a year ago. They graduated and now are playing volleyball at Jacksonville and Catawba Valley C.C., respectively, so the Greyhounds have some rebuilding to do.

Key returners for Statesville include libero Skylyn Ostwalt and outside hitter Isabella Daye, the teams’ top returning digger and hitter, respectively.

East Rowan went winless in conference play each of the last two seasons and looks to improve.

New coaches at traditional powers

Megan Norris takes over as North Iredell volleyball coach. She replaces Janna Payne Sells, who stepped aside after leading the Raiders for one season. It followed 2017 under the direction of longtime coach Natalie Tribble, who rode off into the sunset with the 3A state championship, her and North Iredell’s second.

Norris has coached with the I.C. Stars, a well-established local volleyball club that offers its players training and competitive play at the regional—and sometimes national—level. Several of the Raiders on the current 12-player roster have come through the I.C. Stars pipeline.

West Iredell will also have a new coach. David Parsons returns to the sideline. He was at the head of the bench in 2017, when the Warriors advanced to the 2A state championship match.

Parsons replaces Brinsley Stewart, who stepped down after guiding the Warriors to the 2018 2A West region final. Stewart served as Parsons assistant during West Iredell’s run to Raleigh.

This Warriors team looks different than the one that came within one victory of returning to the state final a year ago. They graduated three marquee players—middle hitter McKenzy Sharpe, setter Amber Wooten and defensive specialist Piper West—and their top returning player, sophomore Gerrin Tomlin, transferred to Davidson Day. Emily Johnson is a key returning starter at libero.

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