Pelham volleyball returns strong cast of seniors

Published 9:15 am Monday, August 9, 2021

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By TURNER GRIFFIN | Staff Intern

One win away from a fourth consecutive AHSAA State Volleyball Tournament appearance, Pelham fell just short in a South Regional loss to Northridge to end the 2020 volleyball season.

That Pelham team felt that they had more left to accomplish during the 2020 season, but some exciting news for Panthers fans is that the 2020 team remains, for the most part, intact.

“We’re bringing back so much from last year’s team that I feel like we’re in a pretty good place,” head coach Perry Robinson said. “However, that doesn’t mean we can get complacent and just rely on experience. Everyone in this region is competitive and everyone on our schedule is competitive. Anyone can win if one team doesn’t come prepared.”

Robinson is returning 11 seniors from last year’s squad after having two seniors on the team this past fall.

One of those departed seniors is middle hitter Hannah Schmuker, who was named to the All-County First Team this past season thanks to 198 kills, 60 aces, 45 blocks, 45 digs and 11 assists.

Despite losing Schmuker, Coach Robinson is excited to return four of the best players in the county with two of them being arguably some of the best in the state.

Outside hitter Elizabeth Hayhurst, middle hitter Courtney Proffit and Setter Shay Walsh all get to suit up for one more season.

Hayhurst was arguably Pelham’s most productive player this past season, totaling 300 kills, 157 digs, 24 blocks, 17 aces and 14 assists. Proffit also had a tremendous season, finishing with 49 blocks, which led the Panthers, as well as 197 kills, 17 digs and eight assists.

Walsh thrived in a different role on the team, as she finished tied with the most assists in the county at 576, while adding 142 digs, 28 aces, 18 kills and nine blocks.

These three upcoming seniors also shared the court with Tammy Melendez, who tallied 27 aces, 172 digs and 26 assists.

Now, looking forward to the task at hand this season, the Panthers have been working to improve every day this summer, which looks a little different than the socially-distanced practices from last summer.

“Having a normal summer back while returning so many players has been a blessing,” Robinson said. “Last year made it really difficult to be together as a team during the offseason, and now these girls have had more time to work with each other over the summer. We’ve gotten to have our play days, tried out tons of different lineups, and been able to see what works and what doesn’t.”

Robinson said the number of seniors can make a difference simply because they have been a part of the program for many years, which has shown them what it takes to be successful.

“They’ve been building for a while and they’ve been in some of those big games and big moments,” he said. “They’ve shown glimpses throughout their entire career up to this point. And this summer, they’ve all been working on putting it all together. They all have confidence in themselves and this team, and I’m excited to watch them leave it all out there.”

Even with all these returning players, there is still a shared expectation for every player on the team, no matter the amount of experience.

“I kind of expect all my players to emerge as leaders because they all share that role on this team,” Robinson said. “We don’t do captains, and I think it forces everyone on the team to step up and take the initiative to help this team win in whatever role they have.”

When you make the state tournament three years in a row, success starts to become an expectation throughout the program. This year’s players understand the potential that they have year in and year out and believes they fell short last year of what they were capable of.

“They know how close we were, and they want to get back to it, simple as that,” Robinson said. “Northridge was a good team and had a lot to do with why we didn’t advance, but I think these girls felt like our season ended before it should have. They’re working every day and improving every day because they know what this team can accomplish.”