High School Sports

Cap-8 Conference volleyball preview: Broughton returning bulk of playoff pieces

Broughton outside hitter Katja Ehlers (11) attacks against Leesville Road in last year’s state playoffs. She is one of several key returns for Broughton.
Broughton outside hitter Katja Ehlers (11) attacks against Leesville Road in last year’s state playoffs. She is one of several key returns for Broughton. newsobserver.com

RALEIGH Jim Freeman has certainly put his stamp on Broughton’s volleyball program.

In 2011, the Capitals won just three games.

In 2014, they were on the verge of a state championship.

It would definitely be awesome if we could keep going and maybe get to the state finals. We just have to keep working on our game.

Broughton OH Katja Ehlers

Freeman, who’ll enter his second year coaching at the school, last year led Broughton to a 20-1 record, it’s lone loss soiling the N.C. High School Athletic Association title hunt.

The East regional final – a 3-2 loss to Greenville’s J.H. Rose – was the farthest the Caps have been in the playoffs.

Broughton, the reigning Cap-8 Conference champion, will return several key players, feature a dynamic transfer outside hitter and, as Freeman put it, look to be in the hunt again.

First, Freeman said, his Caps have to get through a competitive Cap-8. Last year, Broughton swept the conference.

“It’s annually a very strong conference,” Freeman said. “There’s no easy night. It’s really fun. Every time you play, you know you’re playing somebody good. It’s going to be fun to watch and fun to play.”

Heritage (17-8, 9-5) finished behind Broughton, while Wakefield and Leesville Road (13-7, 9-5) tied for third. Six Cap-8 volleyball teams made the 4A playoffs, capped off by Millbrook (8-10, 7-7) and Wake Forest (12-11, 5-9)

Broughton returns key seniors in middle blocker Tiana Butler, outside hitter Katja Ehlers and setter Kati Smith. It lost graduated senior Adria Johnson, but junior transfer and outside hitter Kalee Vanderhorst should fill the gap. She transferred in from Greenville’s D.H. Conley and led the Vikings with 380 kills last season.

“We have a lot of hitters that can hit,” Butler said, “as opposed to last year when we had a select few.”

Butler led the Caps with 39 blocks, and Smith contributed 427 assists. Ehlers threw down a team-high 309 kills last season, second in the conference behind Wake Forest’s Kylie Grandy (533), the Cap-8 Player of the Year.

Other 2014 conference leaders expected to return this season include Heritage hitter Hannah Mildes and setter Ellie Lupton, who led the conference with 671 assists last year. The Huskies lost several of its attacking core to graduation.

Broughton eliminated conference mate Leesville Road in the second round.

Leesville Road’s leading setter, Meghan Gasper (339 assists), was a junior last season.

Millbrook lost its conference-leading blocker Aquia Jones. Wakefield also lost several leaders but return youth at the net and setting options. The Wolverines expect to rebuild this year after graduating five players. Setter Erin McEneny, OH Gentry Banda and MB Ade Owkoniran will be key players to watch from the nine-player roster.

Wake Forest will return senior right side hitter Chelsey Cunningham, senior OH Hannah Harris, sophomore libero Gabby Richards and junior middle blocker Piper Townsend. Molly Northcut, the Cougars’ senior hitter who didn’t play last year, is expected to contribute. Young setters Georgianna Darch and Emma Harris and sophmores Savannah Strawbridge and Jordan Woodard are expected to have significant roles this year.

Fallon Stevens threw up 315 assists for Sanderson (4-14, 3-11) last season, while Enloe (3-18, 0-14) is expected to return experienced defenders and blockers.

OTHER AREA SCHOOLS

Athens Drive (11-12, 5-9): Raquel Rooney is a UNC Wilmington recruit in beach volleyball. She had 112 kills. Allison Lake added 110. Senior Sydney Yount returns as the team’s top defensive player (116 digs).

Cardinal Gibbons (27-0, NCHSAA 3A champion): Cardinal Gibbons will return 12 players from last year’s championship team, including title game MVP and conference player of the year Briley Brind’Amour. She led the Crusaders with 265 kills. Coach Logan Barber has led Cardinal Gibbons to a 3A title each of his five years. Four seniors have verbally committed to college and the team will play in 4A class PAC-6 for the first time this season.

Franklin Academy (15-9, 12-4): Leading hitter Joy Rhodes (166 kills) was a sophomore.

Friendship Christian (12-6, 6-3): Hannah Braswell returns as a senior captain.

Grace Christian Raleigh (8-6, 1-4): The Eagles open at home against Rocky Mount.

North Raleigh Christian (20-6, 8-2): The Knights return a lot of youth to their attacking core and to the setter position. Faith Murray recorded a team-high 336 assists.

Ravenscroft (20-9, 7-3): The Ravnes gave up just 30 sets en route to NCISAA 3A quarterfinal round. Caroline Hall had 294 digs as a sophomore last season.

Rolesville (0-21, 0-14): Rolesville returns after a winless season, this time under the helm of first-year coach Brian Harris. The Rams will playing without any seniors.

Raleigh Charter (11-8, 10-6): Leading hitter Grace Irvin returns as a senior captain.

Raleigh Christian Academy (1-8, 1-2): The Eagles will host Friendship in their home opener.

Southeast Raleigh (12-11, 10-4): Leading hitter Tyra Burt (76 kills) returns this season.

St. David’s (14-6, 8-0): The Warriors won the conference crown outright, sweeping the league last season.

St. Mary’s (6-9, 2-8): Setter and RS hitter Ruthie Brady and setter Emma McClymont, both rising seniors, are expected to lead the team.

Trinity Academy Raleigh (1-10, 1-6): The Tigers open the season with Carolina Mustangs.

Wake Christian (30-7, 9-1): Hailey Brooke McFadden led the conference with an unprecedented 667 kills. Emily Smith tossed up 888 assists as a junior in 2014.

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