CHAPEL HILL — Arguably the top volleyball team in the county this fall season has been Woods Charter School, which moved to 12-3 overall Monday night with a home sweep of Northwood.
The Wolves, who are 8-1 in conference play, have won five straight matches since falling to Eno River Academy, 3-0, back on Sept. 16. In her first season as Woods Charter’s head coach, Amanda Gough has the Wolves playing on a similar level to last fall, when they won a program-record 18 matches and reached the first round of the state playoffs.
Gough didn’t have any head coaching experience when she accepted the head coaching job at Woods this summer. She credited the ease of the transition to her sophomore captain — setter Maya Sheridan.
“(Maya) came into the year without the title of captain, already ready for tryouts knowing that she had to run warm-ups and knowing she had to get people motivated during practice,” Gough said. “That was a great welcome to have that in my players already established ... “She’s always the first person at practice and is the person who will send out a text after the game saying how great everyone did. Having that leadership already established has been such a big help to me.”
Sheridan is one of the few returners from last year’s team. As a freshman in 2021, she led the team with 542 assists, or an average of 8.2 assists per set.
Through 15 matches this season, Sheridan has a team-high 203 assists to go with 61 service aces and 12 total blocks. The sophomore is a major reason why Woods is currently tied with Chatham Charter School atop the Central Tar Heel Conference standings this fall.
Another big reason for the Wolves’ success this season is the emergence of several freshmen, including outside hitter Josephine Valgus.
The big question mark for Woods entering the season was how the Wolves would replace outside hitter Lexi Smollen, who led the team in kills with 474 as a sophomore last fall before transferring to Chapel Hill High School this summer.
The answer so far has been Valgus, who currently leads the team with 192 kills, almost 150 more than the next closest player.
“(Josephine) originally told me she played both right-side hitter and setter,” Gough said. “I saw a stronger player within her, so I wanted to place her at outside hitter. I think that was the best move, having Maya be the setter and having Josephine be our best offensive option. She’s been able to put a lot of kills away this season. She’s really managed making adjustments when she makes a mistake and how to place the ball in order to get a side out or rack up those points.”
Valgus is one of four freshmen currently on Woods Charter’s roster. The Wolves also feature three sophomores, one junior and just two seniors.
Having such a young team adds to the excitement for Gough. While this past offseason was one of change and transition for the Woods volleyball team, Gough believes there is now a solid foundation in place to build on over the next several seasons.
“I’m so excited for the future. I feel like we have a pretty good rhythm going with the players. A lot of the ninth graders are having a good time with it and bringing out all their friends to the games. It’s definitely a morale boost to have that connection to the girls, and the eighth-graders we’ll have coming up, I feel like they’re just going to add to that. Things are going to keep getting better, in my opinion.”
Woods’ top competition this regular season has been Chatham Charter, which is tied with the Wolves atop the conference standings. The Knights swept Woods, 3-0, back on Sept. 13, but the Wolves got their revenge with a 3-1 victory on Sept. 29.
Chatham Charter, which only has six players on its roster, has been led offensively this season by senior Emerson Clark, who has 167 kills and 51 service aces so far this season. The Knights have two more conference matches this season — a Thursday meeting against 13-4 Cornerstone Charter and the their regular season finale at River Mill next Tuesday.
Last season, the Wolves and Knights split their two regular season meetings. Woods Charter ultimately got the last laugh, as it defeated Chatham Charter in the conference tournament to win the season series.
In the Mid-Carolina 1A/2A Conference, Seaforth currently has the best record of any county team with a 10-3 overall mark and a 5-2 record in league play. The Hawks entered their match at Chatham Central High School on Tuesday on a three-match winning streak.
Central came into Tuesday’s match with an 8-10 overall record and a 3-5 mark in conference play. Sitting behind the Bears in fifth place in the league standings is Jordan-Matthews, which is 4-11 overall and 1-5 against conference opponents.
Sports Editor Jeremy Vernon can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter at @jbo_vernon.
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