The last time Triton didn’t win its conference championship in volleyball, every single current player in the Two Rivers 3A was a preschooler.
And some of this season’s head coaches were in elementary school.
Wendy Gaines, who is starting her 20th season as the Hawks’ coach, has won 14 straight titles in various conference incarnations and has led her team to the state semifinals three times.
Some coaches around Johnston County are saying with a lot of hard work and a little luck, a different team could win the Two Rivers this time. But the odds are they had better take this season as an opportunity, since Triton doesn’t have a single senior on the roster.
“I think a big reason for our success has been all the hard-working girls we’ve had,” Gaines said. “And we’ve done a pretty good job turning athletes into volleyball players.”
South Johnston finished second last season, but lost twice to the Hawks as did everyone in the conference.
“We have high expectations,” South coach Matthew Adams said. “We’ve got eight players and we’re hungry. And the fact Triton has won all those conference championships is always in our minds.
“Our seniors told me they think we’re capable of winning the conference championship and making a run in the state tournament.”
Shelley Johnston, in her second season as head coach at Cleveland, said she really likes her team’s work ethic.
“I think we have the potential to be a lot better,” Johnston said. “It’s a rebuilding year since we lost so many seniors, but the girls are very coachable and work really hard.”
Charles Riley has been the only coach in Corinth Holders’ six seasons, taking the Pirates to the state tournament four straight seasons including a championship in the Northern Carolina 2A in 2012.
“We’re returning 90 percent of our offense, and I feel really good about where we are,” Riley said. “I think it’s the most talent we’ve ever had coming back.”
Triton (17-7 overall, 10-0 conference in 2014): The Hawks lost five seniors, but should be led by a solid junior nucleus. Leanna Parker is the setter, Annie Tyndall the libero and Taylor Gainey a strong middle hitter.
South Johnston (17-8, 7-3): Adams says senior setter McKinley Johnson is quick to the ball and that senior outside hitter Lily Allen has improved “drastically.” Seniors Emma Blackman and Makayla Tart return in the middle and Reagan Byrd is back at libero.
Cleveland (16-7, 6-4): The Rams return three key seniors in middle hitter Alexis Ivey and outside hitters Wallie Driggers and Hannah Neville. Coach Johnston says sophomore hitter Taylor Thomas and freshman setter Jenna Myers have major potential.
Corinth Holders (9-10, 5-5): The Pirates have plenty of key returnees. Returning seniors include middle hitter Katelynn Leach, outside hitter Haley Stancil and setters Courtney Atkinson, Kelly Ammons and Kaylee Christensen, while outside hitter Jamie Turner leads the juniors.
Western Harnett (5-13, 2-8): New coach Hallie Hales says the Eagles should get leadership from senior middle hitter Rachel Rodriguez and junior setter Kasey Pace.
Smithfield-Selma (4-20, 0-10): Former Spring Creek coach Deanna Morris is in her first season with the Spartans. Morris says she’s looking for senior leadership from outside hitter Logan Batten and middle hitters Karlie McCullers and Kayla Wakefield.