Skyhawks making a statement on the volleyball court

The season head coach Sarah Iruegas arrived in 2010 the Skyhawks girls volleyball team played to a 2-16 record. The program progressively improved over the course of the past three years and this year’s Lady Skyhawks are 11-6 overall and a perfect 7-0 in conference 12 play. With a final regular season test in Manchester this past Tuesday (results posted on twitter @VNewsSports), the Skyhawks could be looking at their first “district” championship since 2006.

“This team has been together for four years,” said Iruegas. “That kind of longevity is great.”

Led by a pair of seniors, in middle hitter Courtney Wiseman and outside hitter Julia Stech, the Skyhawks have a great supporting cast of young players and have gelled as a team.

“Both Courtney and Julia have grown so much as players and individuals,” said Iruegas. “Their leadership skills have skyrocketed.”

The two seniors are respected figures on the court, but also bring a light-hearted approach to the game, something which Iruegas stated has been huge for team morale.

Wiseman and Stech are both on the verge of career milestones and college scholarships. Wiseman is just seven digs and 16 kills away from having 500 of each in her career and Stech is just 13 kills away from 200. Wiseman is receiving interest from Division II schools and Stech from Division III schools including Randolph Macon. Also chasing a record is senior Jessica Bradbury who is 39 assists shy of breaking the single season school record of 397.

Bird has also received excellent play from converted softball catcher Carrie Cochran at the libero position. Iruegas said that her agility from the crouch in softball has indubitably aided her in hitting balls close to the ground, enabling her to set up her team for more points.

Sophomores Taylor McNeely and Lache Harper, and junior Jerrica Fegans are also key contributors for the Skyhawks. Harper and Fegans play the front line well, gathering blocks and kills. Harper just started playing volleyball this year and has picked up the game quickly. McNeely isn’t your typical volleyball player at 4-11, but “eats and sleeps” volleyball. The sophomore is applauded for her hustle.

“She [McNeely] goes for everything and is on the floor almost every point,”  Wiseman said. “That effort and attitude is amazing for the team.”

The biggest challenge for Iruegas and the Lady Skyhawks had been finding girls who want to play. Word of mouth has gone far for the team, as tenured players have recruited players such as Fegans, Harper and junior Brittany Faison.

Three players have already ascended to the next level under Iruegas in 2011, grad Katie Hall (Stevens Institute of Technology) and 2012 grad Sarah Bowles (Mid-Atlantic

Christian University). Jordan Payne walked onto the Lynchburg College volleyball team this past season.

Bird’s volleyball team has broken out, and is a team that won’t have the element of surprise for much longer.

“Other teams don’t think that L.C. Bird would be good at volleyball,” stated Wiseman. “When they come and watch they are surprised with us.”

Iruegas, a Canisius graduate and former volleyball player credits some of the team’s success this year to assistant and junior varsity head coach Caroline Brown.

“Having Caroline [Brown] on my bench has made me more confident as a head coach,” said Iruegas. “I’m confident that as long as her and I are coaching together at Bird, this program will achieve more and more each year.”

The Lady Skyhawks are first looking to win the conference and then will gun for the program’s first regional championship since 1994. To keep up with Bird volleyball’s stats and results follow us on twitter @VNewsSports.

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