DUBLIN — The Lady Knights lost some solid height along the front line in UNCP-bound Mallory Davis and Methodist-bound Courtney Thompson, but coach Gaye Davis thinks West Bladen has the pieces to compete in the Four County Conference this season.
In all, the Lady Knights lost six seniors from last season’s squad that took the No. 1 Class 2-A slot out of the split 1A/2A conference — including Kristen Dickerson, Samantha Gooden, Codi Pait and Taylor Stephens.
“The biggest loss is Mallory …” Davis said. “We will be young, with four returning seniors but only two with a lot of experience. Morgan Sweeney is definitely the strongest player, but the others are stepping up to the plate.”
Also returning for West Bladen are Breanna Jackson, Allison Thompson and Krisna Ransom.
If the Lady Knights are to make their fourth straight appearance in the Class 2-A state playoffs, they will first have to navigate through a tough conference.
“Our conference will be just as strong as it was last year — with Pender County and Wallace-Rose Hill leading the way,” Davis said.
With those two teams being Class 1-A schools, the top Class 2-A slot out of the conference could be wide open between West Bladen, East Bladen, Clinton and Midway.
“You just never know how teams will work together,” Davis said. “All of the other schools’ girls play travel (volleyball) and that gives them a great advantage.”
Davis will carry the four seniors, along with one junior and four sophomores on the roster this season.
“The girls have been working hard and are gelling as a team,” Davis said. “They are all exited and ready for the challenge …”
The Lady Knights open the season on Monday at home when they host West Columbus in a non-conference match. They will open conference play on Aug. 28 when they host Union.
Numbers will be of concern for the Lady Eagles this season, but coach Jennifer Hair is hoping the new rebuilding effort will pay off after picking up just three conference wins last season.
The only player lost from last year’s team was Cassie Hancock.
At the heart of this season’s squad will be returning players Abby Norris and Imani Turner-Dobson, which gives East Bladen a solid front line to work with. Hair is also counting on a strong set of servers and, with work on a passing game, expects to be more competitive.
Also returning this season are Lacey Suggs, Claire Campbell, Abby Ward, Miller Heustess, Emily Scott and a host of rising sophomores.
The Lady Eagles open the season on Tuesday at St. Pauls. They open Four County Conference play on Aug. 28 at Midway.