Haffner

Carroll’s Taya Haffner serves against Homestead last season. Haffner is one of seven varsity players to return this season.

HUNTERTOWN — For this year’s Carroll volleyball team, it will be up to the newcomers to decide what kind of squad they are. The team graduated six seniors from last season, and though seven varsity players return, few have game-time experience.

“I’m excited about this group and excited about the challenges,” Head Coach Matt McCarter said. “This group really gets to set their own identity. For years past it’s always been kind of that same core group that’s developed their own identity early on, and now this group gets to redo that and make it their own.”

Of the seven varsity returners, only two have the experience to rival their predecessors. Junior setter Taya Haffner will start for her third year in a row, and senior Megan Driver, a middle blocker, will return from a late-season injury in 2018.

“Other than that, it’s pretty much going to be a whole new crew and a whole different look for us,” McCarter said.

Haffner and Driver also happened to be the tallest members of the team in 2018, standing at 5 feet 11 inches each. The size of the rest of the team will force the Chargers to rethink their strategy this season.

“There’s a lot of good players, but it’s going to be a different mindset than we’ve had in the past,” McCarter said. “We’re going to be very defensive-oriented this year more than ever since we kind of lost our size — but we still have the talent. It’s just learning how to use that talent in a different way.”

With seven varsity players returning, figuring out who will fill the floor will be a process early on in the season.

“It’s going to be kind of a competition by committee to start,” McCarter said. “We’ve got a lot of talented young ladies this year that are going to be fighting for it. We’ve started to try and piece the puzzle together, and it’s going to be fun. It will be a battle all year long, and I think the kids will kind of switch spots until we decide who will grab ahold of a spot.”

Last season, the Chargers went 28-6, climbing to No. 7 in the final state coaches poll. The team defeated Concordia in straight sets to claim a sectional title at Snider before falling to No. 1 Yorktown in the opening round of regionals.

The team has won straight sectionals for the past decade. The Chargers earned their last regional title in 2015, which was the second year the program earned a state runner-up finish.

“Obviously we’ve got a strong tradition with our program, and every year our goal is to maintain that tradition and try to grow it,” McCarter said. “The state realigned the regionals a little bit, so we’ve got our work cut out for us but if we can find our rhythm and find a way to work together, I think we have just as good a shot this year as any, even with the inexperience that we’ll have early on.”

With a tough non-conference schedule this year, McCarter believes his young team will grow much quicker from its first match to the start of the sectional tournament.

“There are a lot of downsides to not being able to play in a conference, but the plus side is we schedule the best of the best,” he said. “We usually play all the top SAC teams in the area, and we play a lot of the top teams outside our area, like down in Indianapolis and the northwest side. We might take some lumps along the way, but if we can learn from them the way we’re supposed to, I think it definitely will make us stronger toward the postseason.”

The Chargers will face East Noble on the road tonight at 6 p.m., before hosting DeKalb in their home opener Thursday. The team will compete in the Penn Invite on Saturday with potential matchups against the host Kingsmen, Hamilton Southeastern and Andrean.

“A lot of top teams are in that tournament, so it will be a good test early on,” McCarter said.

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