‘We’re a new team’

Published 8:23pm Thursday, September 12, 2013

Tuesday night’s boys’ volleyball match between Lakeland High School and host Nansemond River High School showed that the 2013 Cavaliers squad is no pushover.

Both teams struggled and gave up points on bad serves, but Lakeland weathered the storm and won in four sets: 22-25, 25-23, 25-22, 25-22.

Lakeland High School senior setter Ryan Stalnaker serves against host Nansemond River High School on Tuesday night during the Cavaliers' four-set victory. Stalnaker is expected to be a key leader this year for a Lakeland squad that expects significant improvement from the 3-15 record in 2012. The Cavs are already 2-3, and 2-0 in the conference. (Titus Mohler / Suffolk News-Herald)
Lakeland High School senior setter Ryan Stalnaker serves against host Nansemond River High School on Tuesday night during the Cavaliers’ four-set victory. Stalnaker is expected to be a key leader this year for a Lakeland squad that expects significant improvement from the 3-15 record in 2012. The Cavs are already 2-3, and 2-0 in the conference. (Titus Mohler / Suffolk News-Herald)

“The team really showed a lot of heart, especially dropping the first game, but I know what they’re capable of,” Cavaliers head coach Omar McGann said.

Lakeland sophomore middle blocker/hitter Irvin Ashburn recorded 14 kills and four blocks, senior outside hitter Nolan Knight had six kills and senior setter Ryan Stalnaker had 10 assists.

Last year, the Cavaliers went 3-15, missing the post-season, but this year, the team is already 2-3, and 2-0 in the new conference.

The team lost four players to graduation from the 2012 squad, but the roster currently includes four seniors, three freshmen, two juniors and two sophomores.

McGann is confident about his team’s chances at a winning season based on what he has seen.

“Right now, I really feel like we have a solid team that can really challenge anybody in the district, especially in the new conference that we’re in,” he said.

The Virginia High School League’s realignment ensures only games against schools of like size will determine Lakeland’s post-season qualification and destiny.

While McGann appreciates how this will help his players’ confidence, he preferred having to get through the larger schools of the Southeastern District and hopes his team will not settle for simply being strong at a lower level.

“I don’t want them to be content with that,” he said. “I want them to strive for better.”

McGann said he will look to Stalnaker for leadership: “He’s stepped up his game this year.”

Stalnaker has embraced the role, even though he is still learning the setter position he just started playing.

“He’s a good leader,” McGann said. “He’s always willing to take over. He’s not scared of the big moment. It’s a big attribute to have, being a setter.”

Stalnaker said the biggest obstacle his team will have to overcome is its youth and inexperience, but he said, “I expect at least a .500 team. We’re growing well.”

McGann said Nolan Knight is another standout, who “brings a lot of energy to the team.”

He said Knight is good at receiving serves and has grown a few inches since last year, which he has turned to his advantage on the court.

Irvin Ashton has shown enormous improvement from last season according to McGann.

“I definitely think he’s become a big factor for us at the net,” McGann said. “His footwork and the blocking has definitely been better (this season).”

Because of Ashburn’s defensive effectiveness on Tuesday, “After a while, they just stopped swinging,” McGann said of Nansemond River.

Since he is only a sophomore, Ashton also constitutes as an up-and-comer, and McGann said, “I think he’s going to be an excellent player.”

McGann also cited freshman libero Kyle Stuart as a promising player, who has shown a lot of skill.

The biggest challenge for the Cavaliers this year will be “probably keeping their confidence up and staying humble,” McGann said.

“I tried to let them know it’s a new year and we’re a new team,” McGann said, knowing they just came off a tough, losing season. “We can pretty much play with anybody that we’re on the court with.”

He hopes to make it deep in the conference tournament, at the very least.

Lakeland hosted King’s Fork High School Thursday.

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