East Wilkes Head Coach Kassandra Gage (formerly Kassandra Money) saw her Cardinals’ volleyball squad make significant strides last season, culminating in a spot in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association 1A playoffs.
This season, a veteran core of eight seniors will return to hopefully lead the Cards to even greater improvement in 2019.
“I am really looking forward to the experience we are going to have on the court this season,” said Gage, whose squad finished last fall at 4-17 overall and 4-10 in the Mountain Valley Athletic Conference. “We haven’t had that over the past couple of seasons. But we can already tell the leadership is there. And I think we’re also stronger on defense. It’s hard to win if you aren’t strong defensively.”
Experience has also helped the Cardinals learn to “play smart,” according to Gage. “We’re going to be able to dig deep down, stay alert, and be in the right position on the court.”
Three captains lead the senior class, with Aubrey Wallis, Brooke West, and Krysta Prevette earning that honor.
Prevette is the team’s libero. “Krysta is super quick and light on her feet,” said Gage. “She is a very determined player.”
Wallis will change positions this fall. “Aubrey has been an outside hitter for us, but she is going to move to the middle,” said Gage. “She’ll do anything a coach asks, and I’m excited to see her blocking in the middle for us defensively.”
The setter’s position will be helmed by Ward.
“Brooke has been a varsity player for her entire high school career. She is a team leader on and off the court, and she makes sure the offense runs smoothly.”
Five other seniors — Alexis Caudill, Kaybree Martin, Madison Mitchell, Tara Shaw and Charity Speaks — will also vie for playing time.
“Alexis is our utility hitter. You can put her just about anywhere and know she can get the job done,” said Gage. “Kaybree (who provides another experienced option at middle hitter) is a big part of our interior defense, and is a tough player at the net.”
On the right side, Mitchell is a “very team-oriented player” at outside hitter, according to Gage. “Madison keeps the team up emotionally and always has her mind on the goal.”
Shaw is another outside hitter while Speaks is a defensive specialist.
“Tara is a great, extremely funny kid. We really rely on her power on the outside, too,” said Gage. “Charity is very bubbly, and always has great energy. In many ways she’s part of the backbone of our defense.”
Five juniors round out Gage’s roster, including Haley Graham and Maci Reynolds, who will contribute on the back row.
“Haley hustles. She does a great job getting to the ball, and we expect a lot out of her this season,” said Gage. “Maci is another quick defensive player and she also has a great serve.”
Gage described Monica Shaver as a “strong junior, who played for us last year on varsity. She is also changing positions, to outside hitter. She has awesome power and is smart at the net.”
Kandis Shore is another outside hitter. “Kandis is a good presence on the floor,” said Gage. “She is a motivational player who keeps everyone going.”
The last junior is Kinley Welborn. “Kinley is strong and a quick learner,” said Gage. “She is a very dependable player.”
The Cardinals made it to the state playoffs last season, where they fell to Lincoln Charter in the first round. But that experience from last fall will hopefully be a building block for this season, according to Gage.
“Our number one goal is to make it to the playoffs again, and this year get past the first round,” said Gage. “That’s another example of how experience can help us; we know what we have to do to make the post-season, and we know we have more work to do to advance further.”
But navigating the always tough MVAC is daunting for any school.
“We know West Wilkes is going to be tough,” said Gage. “And Alleghany is always near the top of the standings. But each school has its own strengths and weaknesses. The quality of the conference is high overall, and I think that strength has spoken for itself over the past few seasons.
“Overall, I just hope everyone in the Mountain Valley has a safe and healthy season.”
Cassi Mathis, who will also serve as the school’s JV coach, will assist Gage this fall again.
The Cardinals are currently 1-3 this fall, ahead of Thursday’s match against Mount Airy.