When the first serve went over the net last week in Augusta Preparatory Day School's season-opening volleyball game, the grin on Nicole Abbott's face stretched from ear to ear.
This was no ordinary volleyball game. It was the first volleyball game played in Augusta Prep's new Boardman Athletic Center.
"I've been waiting for this since I can't remember when," Abbott said. "It's a bright, happy gym. You wouldn't think that would matter, but when it's darker, it messes with your depth perception."
Abbott would know that better than any other Lady Cavalier. The junior is a team captain and has been on the volleyball court since joining a club team the summer before her eighth-grade year. A year later, she made the varsity team at Augusta Prep as a freshman. She has been a success on the court ever since.
As a sophomore, she averaged 6.1 kills per match and 3.4 aces per match. The numbers, along with an appearance in the GISA Class AAA state semifinals, earned her a place on the All-Region 4-AAA Team and All-State honorable mention.
"She's one of our best," Augusta Prep volleyball coach Rich Bland said. "We expect even better things out of her this year."
Abbott will lead a young 2006 squad with high expectations. The team is an annual state title contender, and Abbott said that with the addition of a new gym, the opportunities for the volleyball program is limitless.
"I can remember playing in the old gym and having to worry about the low ceiling and hitting the basketball goals," Abbott said. "When you go to away games, you see these huge gyms that are beautiful. Now we have one of our own."
With a new gym comes a relatively new team for the Lady Cavaliers. Abbott and teammate Mary Beth Horton are the only girls on the team with two full years of varsity experience. Bland said he expects Abbott to take the younger players under her wing this year and lead by example.
"We're asking a lot from her in a leadership role this year," Bland said. "Even more than that, we're asking to hit from the front row, hit from the back row and be our best defender."
Abbott said she's up to the challenge. In last week's season opener, she served the final 11 points for a 25-4 win in Game 2. Abbott and the Lady Cavaliers went on to beat Monsignor Donovan 25-5, 25-4, 25-12.
While most players get a thrill from the aces and kills that come with the offensive part of the game, Abbott said the real thrill comes on defense.
"I know it feels great when you get that perfect set and you just crush the ball, but I love it when it's the other girl on the other team who gets the perfect set and gives it a perfect hit but I'm right there with an awesome dig," she said.
"There's no glory in it, but I like really being that true line of defense."
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