Rising above the net: Diminutive Hogan has proven valuable for Titans

Published 12:00 am Thursday, August 24, 2023

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By Jay Spivey

For the Clemmons Courier

Senior Caroline Hogan is the type of athlete others just gravitate toward.

Hogan, a 5-foot-4 outside hitter for the West Forsyth volleyball, has shown that on a daily basis for the varsity team ever since being called up from the JV team following her sophomore season.

“She has a really good attitude,” Coach Lauren Gillon said. “I don’t remember if we called her Sunshine her freshman year. She was always so nice and happy and smiley. Yeah, that was one thing that stood out was how good of a teammate she was.”

Hogan, along with seniors Veronica Ballas and Emma Hanes, were voted co-captains by the players before the season. Those three seniors are helping mend the gap after five players graduated from last year’s team that went 18-10 overall.

“We’re all very close,” Hogan said. “I knew that we would have to work for every point, knowing that our team was younger. There’s only five or so upperclassmen on the team this year.”

It’s not a negative thing. It’s just a different team with a different mindset this season.

“I think everyone was more competitive within themselves rather than as a team,” Hogan said. “I feel like this year we’re competitive as a team rather than individuals.”

If the group of co-captains has an issue that comes up, they will either work within themselves to fix it or will speak to Gillon about it.

“They’re like a little pack,” Gillon said. “They’ve done a great job in practices making sure that everybody’s doing things properly and that everybody knows what’s going on … they bring the energy and the intensity, and I really just think that they love being a part of the program.”

According to Gillon, Hogan, Ballas and Hanes do things together off the court.

“All three of them are involved in the West Wackos,” Gillon said. “I think they were leaders in that. They’re really involved that way. So, all three of them are involved in other aspects at the school, as well.

“So, teachers and administrators look to them for other things. So, they’re used to that leadership role, knowing that other people are counting on them and expecting a little bit more of them. So, they have been a great trio so far this season.”

The mindset all comes down to one thing for Hogan.

“I think it was the mentality knowing this year we have to work harder,” she said. “It’s a whole new team and a whole new lineup.”

Who would’ve ever known that Ballas, who even describes herself as undersized for her position, would become the player and leader she is now?

“I have to do a lot of vertical-agility stuff,” Hogan said. “I train at a gym called Sage, and it has really built my vertical. I do a lot of box-jumping and stuff like that.”

Every little bit helps when a hitter is trying for spikes.

“It definitely has improved it,” Hogan said. “I can’t give you an exact amount, but it’s improved it quite a bit.”

Fortunately for Hogan, her skill as an outside hitter has kept her there without interference from coaches saying she was playing out of position.

“I’ve actually never had that happen to me before, which is surprising because of my height,” Hogan said. “But I think I, coaches have looked at me and are like, ‘Oh, are you a setter or are you a DS?,’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m a hitter.’ And they’re, ‘Oh, OK.’ And then they see me play.

“But I’ve never had a coach question me to become a different position.”

Hogan’s head coach agrees with that statement.

“She appears a little bit taller than 5-4,” Gillon said. “But she can jump. She’s athletic but definitely undersized for her position. But she has a lot of power behind her.”

All of the hard work and offseason drills are paying off for Hogan.

“I think because I’m a shorter hitter compared to the rest of the team this year, I definitely had to get a higher vertical than the rest of them,” Hogan said. “And I have to put more effort in because I have to make up for the loss of height.”

It’s been a process for Hogan after playing two years of JV and one full season of varsity before this, her senior season.

“Her ball control has developed tremendously since JV, just like her overall skill,” Gillon said. “She was on the varsity team last year and didn’t get as much playing time as she probably wanted. She got in at some moments, but she was really just kind of lacking that consistency in her game, like in passing and hitting.

“And this year, she’s really just stepped it up. In the offseason, she worked really hard and embraced her role as a leader, and that kind of allowed her to focus on her individual skills.”

Hogan has helped the team flourish through the early part of this season. West Forsyth is 3-2 with a home match against Western Guilford scheduled for Thursday.

“I think before I got to West, I did (volleyball) as kind of a fun thing, just really went out on the court to just play, where now I play for more of a competitive aspect,” Hogan said. “And I can be smarter with what I’m doing and have more value with what I’m doing.

“There’s more to it, like running plays or placing the ball on the court or what defense we should run.”

There is still plenty of season to play, and West Forsyth hasn’t even started Central Piedmont 4-A play yet. West Forsyth finished third last year behind powerhouse Reagan, which went undefeated in the conference, and East Forsyth.

“Their leadership skills, they know what myself and Coach Rachel (Ruble) and Tammi (Lichty) expect of players in our program,” Gillon said. “And having peers hold their peers accountable for their actions, and how they’re competing in practice and how they’re competing in games like they know what we expect.

“So, usually, when players are holding other players accountable, it’s a little bit more effective. Their leadership skills are super-important with as many young girls as we have on the team.”

The season has just started, and school doesn’t start until Monday, but Hogan is already thinking about the future. She’s leaning toward giving volleyball up after the season with the hopes of going to college at Tennessee.

“Everybody has their goals of what they want to do,” Gillon said.
After graduating from college, Hogan wants to become an elementary school teacher.

“I think growing up I’ve had a lot of teachers like Coach Gillon, to my elementary school, middle school and now high school teachers, each one of them does certain things that inspire me to bring to another child one day,” Hogan said. “…I think I would do fifth grade, probably.”