A new challenge awaits the Pickens High volleyball team in 2012: the Peach Blossom AAA Region.
“I’m looking forward to the conference change,” Blue Flame coach Jennifer Gravely said. “We will face better competition, and that will force us to improve our focus for every game.”
Pickens, which for years had competed in the Western AAA Region, finished the 2011 season with a 20-11 record. The Blue Flame lost to eventual state champion Eastside in the second round of the playoffs.
Gravely, whose teams won four state titles in five years from 2004 to 2008, looks for her team to be more competitive in 2012, but she understands that developing her players takes time.
“It has been an adjustment for me not winning a state championship since 2008,” Gravely stated. “In the offseason, I created a competitive cauldron. We monitor each player’s progress on a daily basis and post ratings on a bulletin board.”
Taylor Underwood, Rebecca O’Shields and Kendall Underhill provide the Blue Flame with much-needed experience. All three have played varsity volleyball since the ninth grade.
Underwood has chalked up more than 1,100 digs in her career at the libero position. O’Shields will man the right-side hitter position, and Underhill will start at middle blocker.
“I’m expecting these three seniors to play intelligently and provide our team with enthusiasm,” said Gravely. “Their leadership will be crucial.”
Senior Caroline Shelton, a reserve last season, will start at the setter position. Outside hitter Michaela Leslie, a junior. also will play a pivotal role for Pickens.
“She is a great all-around player,” Gravely said of Leslie. “She has a great vertical, and she is a terrific passer.”
Gravely said each team has a different makeup.
“You have to learn your way through the season with each group,” she said. Our success will come from playing good defense and our setters playing well.”