By Michael Held
Special to the Johnstonian News
PRINCETON — Princeton volleyball coach Paige Renfrow was all smiles after her team’s 3-0 win (25-10, 25-19, 25-12) over Hobbton last week.
The win gave the Bulldogs (4-3) an early 2-0 start to Carolina 1A Conference play, but Renfrow’s mood is influenced more by the reemergence of something she feels her program has lacked since last winning the state championship in 2014.
“We are eliminating errors,” said Renfrow. “Back in 2014, defense is what won our championship and we’ve lacked that every year since then and we’re getting it back — and that makes me happy.”
Gone this season are many of those moments in which two Princeton players hesitate and let balls drop between them. Renfrow attributes the steadier defensive play to a mindset and that her players “know their spots.”
After some defensive miscues in the early goings this season against the likes of South Johnston and Clayton, Renfrow has seen a huge improvement in her team’s defense.
“Our defense and serve-receive are two things that we’ve really tried to capitalize on in practice,” Renfrow said. “They’re easy to mold I feel like and they make adjustments quickly off the cuff, so if there’s one (server) that just keeps pounding, we’re able to step in and make that defensive adjustment.”
The Bulldogs ended the week dropping a match to Hunt after previously beating the Warriors but also avenged a 3-0 loss to South Johnston to open up the season with a 3-2 victory over the Trojans during the non-conference slate of games.
Princeton is looking to contend with Lakewood this season for the top spot in the conference as the Leopards went unbeaten in the league last year and return their top two attackers.
“We beat both Hunt and South Johnston and that was big competition,” said Renfrow. “South Johnston is huge competition and we looked really good against them, very scrappy.
“I feel like if we can contend with them, then we’re fine in our conference.”
Renfrow points to the versatile Lily Eklund as being key for this year’s squad. Eklund was a setter when playing for the JV team but has since become a hitter for the varsity team. However, her ability to contribute on both the front row and the back row is what makes her so important.
“This year, she’s an asset front and back, no matter where she is on the front and no matter where she is on the back,” Renfrow said. “When she rotates to the back, if our front line struggles with two or three sets, Meredith (Wooten) always find Lily on the back to make a good back row attack and normally will score from the back row.”
An improved Kalli Jones, stronger swings from Hannah Byrd and Harley Parker and Sara Daughtry returning from an injury-plagued freshman season provide more than enough attacking options for Wooten to pick out to vary the Princeton attack.
In the opening set against Hobbton, long service runs from the likes Sara Daughtry and Eklund twice resulted in the Bulldogs reeling off eight consecutive points to take control. Hitters Eklund, Jones and Parker were the beneficiaries of some strong sets from Wooten all match long and especially so in the second set. Nine service aces in the third and final set paved the way to the sweep and the 2-0 start in the conference.
Jones led Princeton with eight kills. Eklund had six kills, five aces and eight assists. Daughtry and Parker both had five kills as well and Wooten dished out 22 assists.