Getting ready

Henderson Collegiate volleyball player Latoya Stephens (center) serves the ball to a teammate during a preseason workout at the school on Monday afternoon.

HENDERSON — The Henderson Collegiate volleyball program has begun preseason workouts after the COVID-19 pandemic forced the N.C. High School Athletic Association to temporarily delay sports for all its affiliated schools.

Head coach Lauren Dennis expressed relief at getting her players back on the court following an extended offseason, and is confident the team can continue to make strides in its development and contend for multiple wins in 2020.

“This has been a long time coming,” Dennis said. “I’m really excited to build on what we did last year. This program has had a different head coach almost every year, so I’m definitely happy to be back for year two. I know my seniors are happy to get back to work and I’m thrilled that they will have a senior season.”

Dennis said the program’s primary focus during the 2019 season was aimed at the fundamentals of the sport, involving a heavy emphasis on serve receiving, memorizing and executing the rotations and other areas where she believed the team was lagging other schools in the North Central 1A conference.

Although Henderson Collegiate only won two games in 2019, against KIPP Pride and the Triangle Math and Science Academy, Dennis saw her players get better with every passing game.

As it did with many things, the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic slowed the team’s progress, but Dennis believes everyone has responded well.

“Our facility is our cafeteria, which is not set up for volleyball,” Dennis said. “We don’t have access to [the Aycock Recreation Center], so we don’t have the equipment that other teams do, but to see the leadership from the returning players has been awesome.”

Leading the senior class for Henderson Collegiate are twin sisters, Kara and Nikki Pendergrass.

Kara said she is happy to interact with her teammates once again following the COVID-19 quarantine period, and is confident everyone can continue to build on team chemistry and enjoy their moments on the court, regardless of what the Pride’s record looks like at the end of the year.

“Last year was very energetic,” Kara said. “There was always laughter, whether we were on the court or off the court. We ended up developing a very strong sisterhood with our teammates and I’m thrilled that after we graduate and move on with our lives, we can look back on this time and be happy that we took part in something like this.”

Both Kara and Nikki believe the team can improve on its overall communication for the 2020 season, but Nikki said that she is grateful to play volleyball and plans to make the most out of each game and help the program improve as a whole before she graduates.

“We all need to improve our attitude,” Nikki said. “I wouldn’t say we had a bad attitude, but whenever we had a tough game, it took a heavy toll on us because we felt like we weren’t good enough. Even though we had a rough time, we all played together, and 2020 has taught us that anything can change at any moment, so I’m going to enter every game with a positive mindset.”

Along with the Pendergrass twins, Dennis said that the strength of junior Trinity Branche should make Henderson Collegiate better in every aspect. She also expects junior transfer Emerald Burk to have a positive impact on the program after she was forced to sit out the 2019 season.

Dennis does not anticipate wins coming easy for Henderson Collegiate in 2020, but she has watched her players put in the effort to succeed during the first few days of preseason workouts.

“We’re expecting things to be tough,” Dennis said. “We’re in a very impressive conference and this is still a new program. I hope that we’re able to overcome some of these challenges and have some things go our way as far as gym space, but I do expect some more growth as we try to build a strong program.”

Official tryouts for Henderson Collegiate will take place on Nov. 4. The school is eligible to take part in its first game of the 2020 season on Nov. 16.