HENDERSON — Middle school athletics for Crossroads Christian formally got underway on Monday, with the volleyball program losing 2-1 against Southside Christian while the soccer team obtained a 6-1 victory over the same school.

Athletic director Scottie Richardson has taken a lot of pride in middle school athletics since arriving at CCS back in 2018. He praised all of the coaches and student athletes for staying focused and adapting to numerous changes while North Carolina deals with the COVID-19 pandemic.

“They’ve done very well,” Richardson said. “The student athletes were so used to coming to workouts wearing their masks and getting their temperatures taken, but we also had monthly coaches meetings in June, July and August that really prepared them as well. We’re handling everything well, but it’s a different sports world for sure.”

Richardson said that a key part of the culture at CCS is building a unified program, which starts with ensuring that student athletes at the middle school and junior varsity levels are properly coached so they’re physically and mentally prepared to participate in varsity competition when they get older.

To accomplish this, Richardson has the varsity coaches take on a CEO-type role within their respective sport so the middle school and JV programs use a system identical to theirs, which helps the players gain a sense of familiarity as they progress through the ranks.

Holden Coghill, head coach for the CCS men’s soccer team, frequently communicates with middle school soccer coach Tony Bennett and constantly observes his players. Varsity volleyball head coach Greg Hardy fulfills a similar role with Cammy Simmons as she mentors the middle school girls.

Like Hardy, Simmons initially struggled to figure out how to properly teach her players under the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association’s social-distancing guidelines, but she followed Hardy’s example on teaching the fundamentals and has already seen the benefits from the revamped offseason program.

“At first I was worried about how I was going to teach new players the game of volleyball without using the actual volleyball,” Simmons said.

“It worked out to our advantage because I was able to go back to the basics of footwork, but I think my players are adjusting to things better than myself honestly,” she said.

Bennett found himself in the same situation as Simmons in regards to practicing while social distancing, but he said that preparation for the 2020 season went about as smoothly as he could hope for, which he attributed to his players adapting seamlessly to the NCISAA’s COVID-19 safety precautions.

“The kids have responded so well,” Bennett said. “We sat down and talked about the importance of making sure we do all of the right things so that we can keep everybody safe. They’ve helped me set up the drills and I have about one or two kids in each line, but I also keep them spread out. They’ve done well in adapting to the new way that we have to do things.”

Experience will be on the side of the middle school boys soccer team at CCS as they look to contend for a conference championship this year. Eighth-grade goalkeeper Adam Brantley serves as a key part of the program’s leadership alongside prolific scorer Thomas Shaw, who tallied four of the six goals in CCS’ victory over Southside Christian on Monday.

For volleyball, Simmons has worked hard to try and get CCS to the conference championship for the first time since 2018. But with a talented roster that includes her seventh-grade daughter, Alex Simmons, she has every reason to believe her team will be competitive during the 2020 season.

“My expectations for this team are high,” Simmons said. “I pretty much have my same team back from last year. Some are playing different positions than last year, but the girls work hard and are hustlers, so I have absolute faith and confidence in them.”

Regardless of how the 2020 season unfolds, Richardson said he is grateful for all of the hard work Bennett and Simmons have put into emphasizing safety and determination during the COVID-19 pandemic. He believes that the future of CCS athletics is bright with those two overseeing the development of their middle school players.

“Tony Bennett and Cammy Simmons are two of the best coaches for middle school,” Richardson said. “Middle school coaching is a very difficult role because you not only have to develop future varsity players, but you’re also in a competitive conference and you have to try and win. They sometimes have a very difficult job, but I couldn’t have asked for two better coaches in Cammy and Tony.”