- Last Updated on 08:03 AM 11/27/13
- BY Doug Ford
A roster without several three-year starters, a new district affiliation and a brand new playoff format were three things confronting the Halifax County High School varsity volleyball team this season.
The Comets proved to be quick studies, and results on the court showed, as the Comets progressed deeper through the post season than it had in a number of years.
Coach Tiffaney Bratton, in her second year with the team, worked with a lineup including only three seniors, Megan Puckett, Maddie Jackson and Chris Bradshaw.
Early on, team building was paramount, according to Bratton.
“Our season was filled with ups and downs,” recalled Bratton.
“We started early in the summer conditioning with most of the team, and the girls were great. They did the usual complaining about running and the summer heat, but for the most part they were more than eager to work really hard all summer long.
“The summer gave us a time to get to know each other and bond as a team. I enjoyed the time and found it to be a real stress reliever.
“The team also got a chance to play together in different settings including Edmunds Park. The girls got a chance to see their strengths and their weaknesses before the season started, which was a big help.
Comets join Piedmont District
“We joined a new district this year, and we went into our competition only having played four of the eight teams in the Piedmont District, those being Franklin County, G.W.-Danville, Bassett, and Martinsville,” said Bratton.
“All of the other teams in the Piedmont were new to us, and we had mixed feelings about the district match-ups, because we did not know what to expect from the other teams.”
Bratton admitted she knew little about the district teams the Comets competed against for the first time, Patrick County, Tunstall and Magna Vista.
“The competition was more than I expected from the smaller schools. Patrick County was a really strong team with some great hitters.
“We knew Franklin County would be tough since they returned most of their team from last year.
“I think we can prepare better for our district next year since we now have an idea of what to expect.”
The playoff format, although confusing at first, in hindsight gave the Comets a “second chance” at regional play, according to Bratton.
“We entered post-season play in our new conference that would seed us in regional play,” said Bratton, whose team was seeded second in the conference behind undefeated Albemarle.
Conference and regional tournaments
Halifax defeated Patrick-Henry Ashland in three games to start conference play before running into Albemarle.
“We did a really great job of playing our game and not playing like the other team,” said Bratton referring to the Patrick Henry win.
The conference finals at Albemarle were another story altogether, she added.
“We did like we have done in the past, which was not play our game,” Bratton recalled.
“We were intimidated by Albemarle’s very big hitters, and we lost the title match in three games. The experience, however, gave us a chance to see real competition and for the most part we saw our weaknesses.
The girls were excited to work at building their confidence. I spoke with most of the girls but especially the seniors prior to starting regional play.
“I explained to them that they had the chance to do something that no other volleyball team in Comets’ history had done, and that was win a regional match and advance to the second round of the North Regionals.
“I told them to give it all they had and let their teammates see their effort, and they would follow.”
“We played our first regional match at Halifax County Middle School,” said Bratton.
“We were at a disadvantage because we had the opportunity to host a regional game, but we could not be in our own gym.
“The middle school staff was gracious enough to give us a chance to practice on the Friday before in their gym to get used to it, and I was thoroughly impressed with the mental focus that all of the girls had during that match.”
“They gave 100 percent and totally dominated that match for our first regional match win. I was completely proud of the way the seniors stepped up and led their team to the win. The girls were totally focused and determined to win,” added Bratton.
“The whole team showed the true meaning of being athletes. They won with ease and only celebrated after they shook the opposing teams’ hands.
“I was really impressed with their show of maturity.”
Senior leadership shows
“Chris Bradshaw is an all around player,” commented Bratton. “I can remember my first year as coach and seeing Chris develop into an exceptional hitter on the team.
“Chris was always an outstanding back row player, but she really worked hard and became a solid outside hitter for the team this year. Chris has a great work ethic, and she leads through example.
“She may not have been the vocal-type leader, but she showed her teammates that the team could win if they went the extra step and sacrificed.
“Chris was a real asset to the team and we will miss her knowledge and skills.”
“Maddie Jackson was a back row player with incredible athleticism,” continued Bratton.
“She was one of the best athletes on the team, and despite her small size, she made up for it with her strength.
“Maddie has an incredible vertical leap, and she improved her game from last year tremendously. “She worked hard all summer to improve her digging skills on the back row, and she also stepped up to hit as a back row player, adding a dimension to our team that helped in the tough games where we could not get good sets.
“The setters could set to Maddie on the back row and despite her small size she could get it over the net with some power.
“ We will miss her athleticism and spirit.”
Meagan Puckett was an all around player as well, according to Bratton.
“’Puckett’ grew to be a very good hitter on the front row,” noted Bratton.
“She worked on her hitting and really stepped up to fill a position when the team needed her.
“Puckett was always a good back row player, and she also lead her team through example. She was a really quiet young lady, but she always worked hard on the court and in practice.
“Puckett was a true asset to the team, and we will miss her work ethic and her great spirit.”
Outlook bright for 2014
The future of the team looks bright, according to Bratton.
“Though we lose three seniors this year, we now have some idea of how things work in the new district and the conference.
“We plan to build with some great talent that we have. Rising seniors Gabrielle Spainhour and Whitney White will step in and lead our team to our next step.
“I expect to continue the power play with setter/hitter Cecilie Elliot and outside hitter Taylor Barnes, and I expect to see continued improvement from Madison Puryear and Megan Nunn.
“Coupled with some of this year’s jayvee players, I think we will continue to compete and win in our district and beyond.”
“We hope to continue to take steps to be the best team we can be,” concluded Bratton.
“It is really a joy to coach young ladies with so much enthusiasm and athleticism. We plan to work hard all summer and get ready for 2014.