The Ashley Ridge Volleyball team has a new head coach, but is still out to repeat as the Region 8-AAAAA Champion.
Chi-Chi Hurley, the Swamp Foxes original head volleyball coach, stepped down from her coaching position this offseason after 11 years of leading the team. She is still a teacher at Ashley Ridge and has taken on the challenge of serving as a volleyball official.
She has handed the reigns of the Swamp Fox program over to Lori Thomas, who assisted Hurley last year in leading the team to its most successful season to date. After winning the region title, Ashley Ridge advanced to the third-round of the state playoffs for the first time before falling to state power Wando.
“I’m very grateful I was given this opportunity,” Thomas said. “Being with the team the three years prior, I know the program and a lot of the girls and I think a lot of them trust me. I’m excited about moving forward and encourage people to come out and watch us because we put on a good show.”
Thomas played at Rowan University in New Jersey, where she received the conference Player of the Year Award. After a couple of years away, she returned to the university as its head volleyball coach and received the conference Coach of the Year honor.
“I had a great experience there but had to step away to finish my special-ed certification and grad school,” she said.
She was hired as an AR teacher in 2010 and as a Swamp Foxes Volleyball assistant coach prior to the 2016 season.
The Swamp Foxes lost five seniors who were all contributors to last year’s team to graduation, including All-state middle hitter Amani McArthur. However, Thomas has 10 returning varsity lettermen at her disposal.
With seniors Amanda Blake and Winter Curry and juniors Vanessa Blake, Alli Atkinson and Shanell Cunningham back, Ashley Ridge should be strong at the net even without the heavy contributions of McArthur. Senior defensive specialist Hailey Patterson and senior Libero Audra Martin return to anchor the defense. Also back are setter Kelly Lisi and defensive specialists Sam Alwardt and Anaya Martinez.
New to the varsity squad this season are junior Emily Danielski, sophomores Kasey Freeman and Katie Fulton and freshmen Leila McClough and Kristen McSwain.
Patterson, Martin and Atkinson have been named this year’s captains, but Thomas is counting on all her returners to set the tone for this year’s team.
“In their own way they will all lead whether it’s with hitting and blocking or helping the younger girls because we did bring up quite a few from the JV this year,” Thomas said. “Those returning will need to help them raise their play.”
The Swamp Foxes got out to a strong start, winning the Sandlapper Invitational preseason tournament. There, Ashley Ridge defeated Summerville, Fort Dorchester and Waccamaw in the finals.
“Amani was a huge hitter and we lost some other impact players, but the team is shaping up well,” Thomas said. “The challenge is just making sure we are bonding as a team, talking to each other and getting them to trust me as a coach. Everything else will come together. We still have some major power hitters. We are out to win the region again, but you can never underestimate any team in our region. You never know what is going to happen come game time.”