By Dan Stillwell
Register-Herald Sports Writer
Everyone has a role on Nicholas County’s volleyball team.
And each does it well.
“All my girls have a quality they can bring to the team,” said 16th-year head coach Marie Shaffer, who will lead the Grizzlies into their first-ever state tournament appearance today. “We have good servers, passers, blockers and hitters. A variety. All can contribute something to the team that helps.”
Nicholas (25-13-2) will play Frankfort at approximately 10 a.m. today in the Class AA state quarterfinals at the Charleston Civic Center.
The Grizzlies stunned host Sissonville 27-25, 23-25, 25-14, 20-25, 15-9 in the sectional tournament, and then beat Mingo Central 25-14, 25-13, 25-7 in the Region 2 semifinal to earn a berth at states. They dropped the championship game to Herbert Hoover 19-25, 26-24, 25-21, 22-25, 18-16.
Sissonville had beaten Nicholas earlier in the season, sweeping two games in a volleyball showcase at the Civic Center.
“Our passing got better,” Shaffer said. “We have real good hitters; it was just getting the pass where we can set it. We’ve learned to play together more.”
The Grizzlies are a good mix of youth and experience, and size and quickness.
Shaffer can go with a fine hitter, 5-foot-8 senior Shayla Steer, or an excellent blocker, 5-11 senior Nicole Hamilton, in the middle.
“Shayla hits it hard,” Shaffer said. “Nicole is a blocking machine. She’s tall and has a long body and arms.”
Steer has 277 kills, 92 aces and 44 blocks for points. Hamilton owns 181 kills and 114 blocks.
Outside hitters Autumn Tyree, a 5-3 senior, and 5-11 sophomore Christy Hamilton can hit the ball hard.
“Autumn is 5-3, but she can get above the net and put it down,” Shaffer said. “Christy is playing well for a sophomore. Her serve isn’t bad, and she has a pretty hard spike.”
Setter Mariah Eberhart has 757 assists. She has quite the touch on her sets.
“Mariah has good, soft, hands, and she puts it up for the girls to hit. That’s why they have all those kills,” Shaffer said. “She mixes it, which is also a plus. We play against girls who are 6-foot, and since we can’t go through them, we have to go around them.”
Libero Lauren Young is a four-year starter who has made an all-tournament team every season. She has 250 digs and 75 aces this season.
“Lauren hustles, and is not afraid to dive after balls,” Shaffer said. “She hardly sits at all because she’s such a great passer.”
Outside hitters Jada Munger and Jessica Nuckols, both juniors, round out the Grizzlies’ rotation.
Frankfort has two tall players and schedules several out-of-state teams. “That makes a difference,” Shaffer said. “Volleyball is more competitive in other states. They play more, and volleyball is a game of experience.
“They will be tough to beat, for sure, but we’re going to give it our best shot.”
Fayetteville (18-12-2) is also making its debut in the state tournament. The Pirates will play Tyler Consolidated at 8:30 a.m.
Outside hitter Hannah Samples had 30 digs, 18 service points and 5 aces last week to lift Fayetteville to a 25-19, 23-25, 27-25, 25-15 win over six-time defending champion Greater Beckley Christian in the semifinals of the Class A Region 3 tournament.
Setter Madeleine Pritt added 16 assists, 9 digs and 8 service points, while outside hitter Jessica Brown and middle hitter Cassie Semple each had 7 kills as the Pirates clenched a spot at states.
Fayetteville fell to Sherman in three games, by identical 25-16 scores, in the Region 3 championship match.
The Pirates, coached by Amy White (who could not be reached for this story), have just two seniors on the squad, setters Cassidy Bayes and Brown, and two juniors, middle hitter Emily Akers and Samples.
Setters Malia Browning, Pritt and Jenna Roark, defender Ashton McKinney and Semple are sophomores. Defender Kathryn Peelish is the sole freshman.
Besides Nicholas County and Fayetteville, three other area teams will compete today in Charleston.
In Class AA, James Monroe will take on Oak Glen at 8:30 a.m., and PikeView will clash with Ritchie County at 1:30.
Greenbrier East will go against Parkersburg in a Class AAA showdown at 8:30 a.m.
Semifinals get underway at 6:30 p.m. Championship games are set for Saturday.
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