Lady Volunteers volleyball banking on solid start

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AJ volleyball outlook

By Robert Howey

The Andrew Jackson High volleyball team is off to a solid start and the Lady Volunteers hope to continue their court success this season.
AJ, 10-5 last season and a Class AA Upper State playoff team, opened the 2016 season winning the Pelion Invitational.
AJ defeated host Pelion, Mid-Carolina, Irmo and Gray Collegiate to capture the Gold Bracket at the PHS tourney.
AJ, led by seventh-year coach John Verdugo, has eight returning players, including seniors Kinsley Adams, Cassidy McKittrick, Ansley Lucas, Haley Vincent and Kaitlyn Holden.
Adams, an all-region pick, was the 2015 team MVP and AJ Defensive MVP. McKittrick reaped the Lady Vols Offensive MVP last season.
AJ junior returnees include Lyndsay Taylor, Makaylen Crosby and Hannah Vincent.
Verdugo, who originally stepped down after last season, is also back with the AJ team.
“AJ had some difficulty filling the position,” Verdugo said. “In late April, Jimbo Barton (AJ athletics director) asked if I would return for another season as there were no immediate prospects.”
Verdugo along with veteran assistant Tammy Twitty agreed to return to lead the AJ volleyball team this season.
Verdugo, in six seasons at AJ, is 70-19 with three region titles, an Upstate crown and five final eight appearances. He is also assisted by Becci Houdek, the Junior Lady Volunteers head volleyball coach.
The AJ newcomers are juniors Savannah Small, Taylor Barrett, Raegen Brewer and freshman Abby Brewer.
AJ, in regular-season play, is 1-1 with a win over Central Pageland and loss to North Central, the 2015 region runner-up to region champ Buford.
“The key to the season is to simply relax and play the game, with emphasis on ‘play,’ ” Verdugo said. “With sound fundamentals as our foundation, we need to have fun playing the game and the rest will fall into place.”
Verdugo said the region race will be a battle.
“Every team is in the running for the title,” he said. “History has proven that on any given night one team can rise to the occasion.
No one should be taken lightly,” coach Verdugo said.