High expectations

Sylacauga’s Aaliyah Carter was the 2018 4A-5A co-Player of the Year in 2018.

Sylacauga High School’s volleyball team has lofty goals entering the 2019 season. 

The Lady Aggies had a successful 2018 campaign, reaching the Sweet 16 in Class 5A. This season, Sylacauga hopes to take the next step.

“I got lucky with the group that I had,” Sylacauga head coach Lauren Blocker said. “We had great senior leaders who were there last year who really pushed that team.

“Aaliyah (Carter) and Faith (Richardson) have really stepped up. They are pushing them to where we need to be. Our goal is to win the Talladega County Tournament, win area again and push to be the No. 1 seed in the region.”

Sylacauga will have to go through two-time defending county champ Lincoln to accomplish one of its goals. Over the past two seasons, Lincoln is 6-1 against the Lady Aggies.

“It is more of a confidence thing and mindset,” Blocker said. “Some of the guys, when they see the name on the chest, they come in defeated. Coming into this year, we have been pushing mental toughness. That’s the biggest thing we have to overcome. It doesn’t matter who we are playing, we have to play our game at our level the whole way through. Not just one set or two sets, the entire match.”

The Lady Aggies will depend on the 2018 Talladega County 4A-5A co-Player of the Year Carter to have another huge season. Last fall, she recorded 341 kills and 68 aces. 

Carter said being named co-Player of the Year really cleared some things up for her.

“I was extremely overwhelmed when we got it,” Carter said. “Last year, I started to doubt myself and volleyball. It was a pretty tough year for me. Getting that was one of my answers. I was searching for answers, and that was my answer to keep pushing, you are going to be good. This year, I plan on working 10 times harder and bringing Player of the Year back with me.”

Blocker said she has seen a more dedicated and determined Carter during the offseason.

“She is one of my senior leaders,” she said. “Being co-Player of the Year, I think that helped her step up this summer and really work hard. We are seeing a different side of her that we didn’t get last year. She has put in that work and extra time.”

The Lady Aggies lost five players from last season’s team that went 22-12.

Sylacauga will have to depend on its underclassmen to try to fill the void.

“Replacing a lot of girls from last year is forcing the younger girls to step and jump into something that they probably weren’t ready for,” Carter said. “I was overwhelmed with how many we lost. We lost five and we only gained two varsity players. I was iffy on how the season would go, but we are starting to fall in place and click.”

Sylacauga will be tested early and often. The Lady Aggies will play in the Briarwood tournament and take on Spain Park and Chelsea.

Blocker hopes that playing teams from higher classifications will prepare the Lady Aggies for the postseason.

Our schedule this year is extremely tough,” she said. “I set it up that way. In my mind, we are going back (to the Sweet 16), and I want them to be prepared for that. 

“Yes, we beat Bibb County in the first game, but in the second game, I don't feel like I prepared them for what we saw (against Satsuma) because it wasn't in our schedule. We never saw that level of competition until the second round. At the end of the day, I felt like I let them down. 

“This year, when I made the schedule, I made sure that we were going to see it … We are pushing ourselves so they can see the competition so when they get there they are not scared.”

Sylacauga will host a tri-match against B.B. Comer and Munford on Aug. 22. The first match is set for 4:30 p.m.