by Cliff Mehrtens

CORNELIUS – Julia Brown’s position on the volleyball floor shifted a few feet, but the move had a massive impact.

Brown, a junior, moved from middle hitter to outside hitter for the Hough High squad. Her new primary role was to smash shots, which she accomplished splendidly. Brown is the Herald Weekly’s Volleyball Player of the Year.

Brown had 402 kills – shots that resulted in points for her team – including 12 matches in which she had 15 or more kills. Her aggressiveness and power helped Hough compile a 35-3 record, roll through the I-MECK 4A conference unbeaten (14-0) and reached the N.C. 4A semifinal.

“Last summer was my first time playing club (volleyball) and that really helped my game,” Brown said. “I moved to outside hitter. It’s a completely different position.”

Brown also had 152 digs, 48 service aces and 23 blocks. Her season-high of 22 kills came against Providence High, a match Hough won to improve to

In the playoffs, she had consecutive matches of 20, 18 and 17 kills. The Huskies won four playoffs before being eliminated in the semifinals by Ardrey Kell, which won the state championship.

“Julia had a great season,” Hough coach Sandi Skidmore said. “She knew what she needed to do for this team and was a good leader. She gained a lot more confidence in herself, which helped with her play.”

Brown smoothly took on the role as a team leader; a move she said was natural because it was her first year as an upperclassman.

“We knew we had to lead the team and everything clicked together,” she said. “It was a great feeling to have such a good season. We were only a third-year school, so all during the playoffs we played like we didn’t have anything to lose.”

Playing outside hitter meant Brown also rotated to the back row. She’d never played there before, either. It’s a skill she’ll work to improve upon, along with increasing strength and jumping.

Her best memory from the season?

“Beating Ardrey Kell the first time,” Brown said. “They were undefeated at the time, and we went in with the mentality of having nothing to lose.”

Herald Weekly 2012 GIRLS VOLLEYBALL Coach of the Year

Sandi Skidmore couldn’t rely on senior leadership for her Hough High volleyball team. The Huskies didn’t have any 12th-graders. But they had talent, drive and cohesion.

Hough was 35-3 en route to the I-MECK 4A conference championship. It won four playoff matches to reach the N.C. 4A semifinals, which makes Skidmore the Herald Weekly Volleyball Coach of the Year.

Skidmore’s squad was dominant in going 14-0 in conference matches. Thirteen of those victories were by 3-0 scores. The lone I-MECK opponent to win a game against Hough was Lake Norman, which lost its match 3-1.