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New coach trying to take Red Rams to the next level

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FRANKLINTON — Franklinton High School’s volleyball program has stringed together plenty of success in recent years. The Red Rams will try to keep things rolling with a new head coach this year.

Tom Harris was hired as Franklinton’s new head coach after previous head coach Crystal Barnes left for Wake Forest High School. Most of the experience Harris has in volleyball is both playing and coaching while in the U.S. Army.

Harris spent the past five years as Franklin Academy High School’s junior varsity head coach for their volleyball program. Now he’s at Franklinton in his first tackle at being a head coach for a high school varsity program.

“I believe in fundamentals,” Harris said. “I believe the best volleyball players in the world are the ones who execute fundamentals the best. I’ve come into a strong program here. I just want to instill belief in yourself and a work ethic. If we work as individuals and improve as a team, we will be successful. Volleyball is like life. You have to make mistakes to learn from them. We take those and apply that in practice to get better.”

Franklinton is coming off back-to-back undefeated conference championships. Their transition from the 2A class to 3A two years ago could not have gone better. The Red Rams have won a total of 89 matches over the course of five seasons.

“There’s no direct pressure here at Franklinton,” Harris said. “I’ve got support from the school’s staff and it’s been great. We want to keep succeeding. We want to avoid the up-and-down seasons. I’m relieved that we have a good core group of girls on this team. Hopefully, my practices won’t bring the team down, but pick them back up. Our goal for this year is to take the team to the next level.”

Franklinton lost seven players from last season’s squad, but have four returning this year. Harris said there are also several new players who have stepped up over the summer who can contribute to the team right away.

“Our setter, Denise Burk, is a senior captain for us,” Harris said. “She’s very strong and we’re glad to have her. Amber Rushing is a senior, who can be a power hitter and good blocker for us. Rebekah Smith is a 3A state champion in the high jump, so she can dominate the middle for us. We’re returning Shelby Sykora, who is a good passer and hitter. She is also another captain for us.”

Sykora posted 65 kills, 47 aces and 187 digs last year. Burk led the Red Rams with 671 assists and Smith was third on the team with 22 blocks on defense. In her limited time on the court, Rushing also recorded 14 kills and 20 digs.

“Our initial strength is going to be the returning players,” Harris said. “We’re going to blend in the people who played junior varsity last year. The underclassmen should help us be really strong as a team.”

Franklinton has proved to be a formidable team over the years. They even had success over 4A schools, which proves that they can play with anybody. Harris has set some goals for the girls to accomplish this year and wants to raise the standard for Franklinton volleyball for future years to come.

“Last year, the girls swept the conference for the second year in a row, so it’s harder to get to a higher goal than that,” Harris said. “The girls made it to the third round of the 3A state playoffs last year, so we want to get to the fourth round this year. In 3A volleyball, that’s tough. We want to make sure the program can continue and set a foundation for the next few years to come.”

Franklinton will play at Louisburg on Tuesday at 6 p.m. Their home opener will be against South Granville on Sept. 4 at 6 p.m.