Friday, 20 July 2018 11:42

ROSports Exclusive: Georgia Grace Anderson competes in volleyball nationals ahead of sophomore season

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Rising RSHS sophomore Georgia Grace Anderson (6) competed in volleyball nationals with AC Sandhills ahead of her second season at Richmond. Rising RSHS sophomore Georgia Grace Anderson (6) competed in volleyball nationals with AC Sandhills ahead of her second season at Richmond. Contributed photo of the AC Sandhills 15U national team.

ROCKINGHAM – Richmond Senior High School’s volleyball team shattered the school’s record books in 2017.  The Lady Raiders went 25-1 last fall taking the inaugural Sandhills Athletic Conference crown in the process. 

It was a remarkable accomplishment for the program considering the many years that it sat at or near the bottom of the conference standings over the last few decades.  Successful seasons in volleyball have been few and far between for Richmond, but Ashleigh Larsen’s Lady Raiders want to continue the success of the past few seasons.

To do so, the Lady Raiders have to fill the shoes of Brianna Baysek (middle hitter), Owen Bowers (middle hitter), Altman Griffin (outside hitter) and Mackenzie Webb (setter).  One rising sophomore that has been working hard during the offseason in hopes of making her way onto the varsity roster is Georgia Grace Anderson.

For the past two years, Anderson has participated on the travel volleyball team organized by The Athletic Club of the Sandhills, known locally as AC Sandhills.  AC Sandhills is a non-profit group based in Moore County whose mission is “to offer as many recreational or competitive avenues for youth and adults to play and have fun through sport.”  The 33-year-old organization focuses primarily on soccer, but has recently expanded to include other sports like volleyball and lacrosse.

“The main focus for AC Sandhills is to improve the skill levels of our athletes in a positive and supportive environment,” explains volleyball coach Brandon Blackburn.  “We do have players who have signed to play collegiate volleyball.  We have processes in place to help those athletes, including taking them to showcase tournaments where they can play in front of college coaches.

“Likewise, we have girls who are playing to become the best high school player they can be and we also have girls who just love the game and want to stay in shape.”

For those participating in both scholastic volleyball and travel volleyball, it is pretty much a year round commitment.  The high school regular season ends in mid-October with state title matches being played in November.  AC Sandhills starts preparing for their season around the same time with practices starting in early December.  Then they participate in tournaments until as late as June.  At that point, many of the girls are then transitioning into their summer workouts for the school teams, and the process starts all over again.

Anderson feels that there are a couple of benefits to playing travel volleyball. 

“My favorite part about playing for the AC Sandhills team is that I get to play with very talented girls from all over the Sandhills,” Anderson shared.  “It allows me to build friendships that will last a lifetime, while playing the game we all love. Also, the experience improves my chances of playing at the next level.”

According to Blackburn, the team traveled to several regional tournaments located throughout North Carolina, but they also traveled outside of the state to play in Blacksburg, Va., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Gatlinburg, Tenn., and Orlando, Fla.

Like the Lady Raiders, the AC Sandhills team has been celebrating some recent success. 

“This season with the U15 team at AC Sandhills has been one for the history books,” Blackburn recounted.  “The team will go down as the most decorated team in the history of the AC Sandhills program.

“They won two regional events, including finishing undefeated in its first tournament of the year,” Blackburn continued.  “Likewise, the team also traveled to Virginia Tech and finished second while also medaling in Myrtle Beach. Perhaps the most memorable trip was our last trip of the season to the AAU National Championships in Orlando. This was the first time AC Sandhills sent a team to Nationals and will hopefully open the door for future teams to participate in the biggest volleyball event in the US.”

The tournament win also highlighted Anderson’s high point of the season.  “One of my more memorable moments this season was when we won our first tournament of the regular season in the beginning of January,” Anderson said.  “Our team worked hard for the past two years to get to that point and it all paid off.

“Another favorite moment was when we were at Nationals and our coach protested for over 30 minutes to get a bad call from a ref changed. His protesting paid off and we won the game. That was one of the best feelings you can get in volleyball.”

Anderson’s fondness of her coaches is not limited to their ability to argue with the officials.  She has the utmost respect and appreciation for the AC Sandhills coaching staff.  “I’ve been playing for Brandon Blackburn for two years,” Anderson said.  “Coach Blackburn has been one of the greatest coaches I’ve ever had.  He sees my full potential and pushes me to the limit.  I owe him for helping me develop the skills I need. 

“Scott Shepherd also coached the AAU National Team along with Blackburn,” Anderson added.  “He has also helped me to be the best that I can be in just a short couple of months. Both of these coaches are from rival schools and I’m excited to play them this upcoming school season.”

Blackburn has been coaching volleyball for 10 years.  He has ties to Union Pines High School, but is currently the volleyball coach at New Century Middle School in Carthage.  Shepherd, on the other hand, is entering his second season of coaching the Lady Patriots of SAC foe Pinecrest High School.

Fellow rising sophomore Emy Cooley also participated in AC Sandhills tournament play, but was injured prior to the National team tryouts and was unable to participate.  However Blackburn expects them both to do well as Lady Raiders.

“(Raider fans) will surely come to know middle/outside hitter Georgia Grace Anderson and setter/defensive specialist Emy Cooley,” Blackburn stated.  “I expect that both of these sophomores will compete for a varsity roster spot and should contribute to the team’s success on a nightly basis.”

Whether it is for Richmond or for AC Sandhills, Anderson loves playing the game. 

“In volleyball, there is always excitement and there is never a dull moment,” Anderson concluded.  “My parents say it’s a stressful game to watch because of the fast pace.  I have been blessed to play with great players at Richmond and for ACS.”