Rock Hill High's volleyball team is off to a great start. The Bearcats were ranked fourth in last week's state Class AAAA coaches' poll, and two players have verbally committed to Division I schools.
Rock Hill is a team on a mission.
"Our goal is to win it all," coach Cindy Elder said.
That is Elder's goal every year, although it isn't always a realistic one.
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The Bearcats' biggest win to date is a 3-0 stomping of perennial power Dorman in Spartanburg. The team still has big matches coming up this weekend when they play No. 1 Aiken and No. 2 Wando at Wando's tournament.
Rock Hill, 14-1 overall and 4-0 in Region 3-AAAA, is led by Christina Vereb and Karis Watson. Vereb is a 6-footer and will play for South Carolina. Watson stands a smidge taller than 6-foot-one and will take her game to Clemson.
Both players began focusing on volleyball in middle school although they excelled in other sports as well. Vereb played basketball. Both ran track.
They are gifted volleyball players. Elder describes them as "very athletic, tall and intense players."
Both of them can touch 10 feet in a vertical jump test. That equals touching the rim on a basketball goal without a running start.
"They are special not only because of their height and jumping ability, but they are also very skilled and have an excellent understanding of the strategies of the game," Elder said.
"I have been fortunate to have some very talented players come through Rock Hill High with the same work ethic and skill as these two. However, these are the first two who have had all of that combined with the height and vertical."
The coach commended them for doing things out of season that have fostered their development. They play club volleyball, go to camps and attend conditioning workouts all summer.
"Most importantly," Elder added, "they are both excellent students, which makes them very attractive to college recruiters."
The Bearcats have traditionally been a strong team, but this year has a little different feel to it.
"Whenever you start off winning, its fun," Vereb said. "The coaches tell us that it's not how good you are at the beginning of the season - it's at the end that counts. We can't get big heads on our shoulders. We have to play each match and worry about the next point."
Watson said the wins this season are a product of team play.
"We are a really good team. We have a lot of talent in all areas, defense and offense," Watson explained. "We all get along really well. We have good team chemistry. I would be nothing without my teammates."
Watson said her older brothers have been a big help to her. Ben Watson is in his seventh year in the NFL. He is a tight end for the Cleveland Browns. Asa Watson is a sophomore tight end at N.C. State.
Teamwork is what makes this group special.
"The best part of this season is that the rest of the players recognize the unique opportunity that we have this year," Elder said.
"They accept the role of being secondary hitters and understand their primary responsibilities are to serve tough, pass, dig and set the ball to the big girls. These are the things that have made us so successful thus far - the little girls doing their jobs well."
Bailey Hudgens, the Bearcats' starting setter, has worked extremely hard to place the ball exactly where it needs to be, Elder said. Makala McCrorey, Demmie White and Sara Beth Bragg are digging on the back row at a high percentage. Anna Greeley, Natalie Jensen and Aylie Burnette are strong hitters and blockers with good stats.
"We are looking for smaller schools for Aylie and Makala. They are both capable of playing at the next level," Elder said.
Rock Hill plays at Northwestern at 7 tonight.