Lady Panthers relying on another large senior class

Published 4:24 pm Friday, August 11, 2017

PINETOWN — Typically, when a team graduates six seniors, the following season may have to be considered a rebuild. That’s hardly the case for Northside, which has five seniors this season ready to take over.

Many of them were integral players last year. The Lady Panthers put together their second-straight 10-win season, which included a thrilling first-round playoff win against Raleigh Charter at home. The campaign came to an end the next day at Wallace-Rose Hill, though.

Of course, Northside would like to continue its winning ways. The Lady Panthers hope to compete in a new-look 1-A Coastal Plains Conference. It will be tough to matchup against reigning conference champion Pamlico County. Riverside and South Creek — two additions to the league — have been strong, too.

The primary goal, though, is to have fun.

“I want to have a lot more fun. I want everybody to be comfortable,” second-year head coach Michelle Leathers said. “I don’t want to be so tensed up. What I know from basketball, I’m bringing it to volleyball. They’re running, and they’re not used to that. We’re just trying to do something different.”

Mattie Respass finds herself in good position while scrimmaging during Thursday’s practice.

Unless Northside adds non-conference games, the Lady Panthers are standing pat until an Aug. 31 trip to Riverside. Leathers has been working with the girls for some time now, and has identified plenty of strengths.

“I know we’re going to be able to hit the ball. That’s our main strength,” she said. “Communicating, too. We’re going to be doing a lot more communicating than we did last year. It’s just being a real, close-knit team.”

Savannah Slade was one of Northside’s best hitters in 2016. Her athleticism allowed her to cover a lot of space. Her impressive vertical leap also let her play effectively in the front. Junior Logan Jefferson is another Lady Panther that’s been strong above the net, but Leathers said she’s helpful anywhere on the court.

From a serving standpoint, Emori Smith and Slade have emerged as two of the more consistent players. Abby Mooring, while somewhat streaky, has shown plenty of skill distributing the ball.

Leathers said she’s confident in Northside’s backline. Mooring and Morgan Hopkins are two holding that aspect down.

Last year’s senior class featured quality players like Rachel Lang, Sydnie Alligood and Tiffany Oliver. With nearly as many seniors this time around, the Lady Panthers expect to take the chemistry they’ve built together over the years and use it to take another leap forward.

“It’s a lot easier when you have seniors leading, communicating and getting everybody going,” Leathers said. “It’s easier. When you come in as a freshman, you don’t talk as much. It’s something you’ve got to learn how to do, and get comfortable.”

Junior Jessica Foster is poised to take on a bigger role with the team this year. Sophomore Grace Armstrong has had a strong preseason thus far, although Leathers said she’s a bit worried about how the junior-varsity team will shake out.