Laura Larkin calls her team the Road Warriors.
Preparing for its second year as a program, the Russell Christian Academy volleyball team plays each match as the away team this season. Without a home court, the team has to travel to its opponents’ every time.
“It really takes a lot of dedication from the players and the parents in traveling so much,” Larkin, RCA’s head coach, said. “But they seem to be dedicated to it.”
The Lady Warriors played their schedule the same way last year after being added to the school’s list of varsity and junior varsity sports. Several students were interested in volleyball and helped get the team off the ground with 20 players among the two squads. Like most of its other sports, RCA competes in the Alabama Independent School Association in volleyball.
Larkin signed on as the assistant coach under Jennifer Cumbest, taking over the head coaching duties ahead of this season.
“A lot of last year was learning the ropes of how to go about it,” Larkin said. “What does it even look like? A lot of them had never even seen a volleyball game.”
This year’s team has 10 more players. It varsity squad is comprised of five juniors and three sophomores, all returning from last season, two freshmen and one senior.
Junior setter Wynecia Willis was introduced to the sport when she became a part of the inaugural team. Though nervous at first, she said she quickly got the hang of it and wants to make bigger strides this year.
“Through all the hard work and having great teammates, it just came easily,” Willis said. “Last year we were just trying to learn the basics. But this year we want to win at least a couple of games.”
RCA’s lone senior, outside hitter Brenley Lippert, is new to the sport and has added it to her slate of basketball and softball.
“I watched a couple of the games last year and thought it’d be a good time,” Lippert said. “It’s really weird to start a sport your senior year, but it’s a cool experience.”
In addition to the extensive travel, the Lady Warriors’ practice facility also provides a hindrance. A small gymnasium on the campus of RCA has enough space for the length of a court, but not the height. Its low ceiling meets a lot of volleyballs during practice as players try to set up shots on offense and save shots on defense.
“You can have the best passes, and they’ll hit the ceiling,” Willis said. “A set will be so good, but it’ll hit the top beam, and the hitter can’t hit it.”
Lippert said while it’s an obstacle for the team, they can use the low serves, which they work on in practice, during matches while getting used to others hitting the same type of serve at them.
“A lot of people don’t see that low of a serve,” Lippert said. “We’re also used to quick serves because of our short ceiling.”
Willis is looking forward to hosting a match next year, as RCA is planning on building a home court for basketball and volleyball. She said she would love playing for a home crowd.
“If we had a home court, the whole school would be able to come, and you’d just have all that energy and all that encouragement from people in your class, teachers, family and friends,” she said.
RCA opens its season Aug. 27 against Pickens Academy in Carrollton, Ala.